The jazz community of Fort Worth bids our First Lady of Jazz a respectful and loving adieu.
The jazz community of Fort Worth bids our First Lady of Jazz a respectful and loving adieu.
NEW CD-R PRIVATE RELEASE FOR 2019 - Johnny Case Presents COMMEMORATION SET * Descriptive Notes by Johnny Case
Welcome to the short assortment. Its modest aim is to offer a diverse, yet unified program emphasizing the fifty-year time span from my earliest album of 1969 to this present Commemoration Set. What's missing fills a larger space than I could have adequately represented in a single volume. Therefore, the freedom I felt from shunning such a task has led me to compile a concise program to serve a simple purpose: the celebration of my 50th anniversary as an indie record producer.
The set begins with a live recording from my former home-base gig at Sardines Ristorante Italiano in Fort Worth, Texas. The year was 2001, shortly after the 9/11 tragedy and within a couple of months of the slated demolition of Sardines, to be replaced by --- a parking garage. Despite valiant efforts by loyal customers, supporters and restaurant employees, big money always wins in any battle of the arts versus corporate greed. I brought a cassette recorder to the gig on two consecutive nights, to preserve a bit of the modern jazz for which the restaurant was well-known. The jazz policy had begun in the late 1970's with pianist Al Malacara, and continued with Ken Boom and Kelly Durbin until I began my stint there in October of 1983. Having played at Sardines six nights a week for over eighteen years, I felt like Sardines was my second home, and it was indeed a long-cherished outlet for musical expression.
On the weeknight of September 18, 2001, the multi-instrumentalist Chris White dropped by to sit in on bass.This blues by the two of us (which opens the CD) was improvised on the spot, and I have named it after the dilemma we faced: Demolition Coalition Blues. Although Sardines would find a new location and continue for another ten years, at the time of this recording the future of the restaurant and my very steady jazz gig was disturbingly uncertain. This track survives as an example of the creative music heard on a regular basis ("Live Jazz Nightly") at the popular Cowtown eatery. I humbly ask for the listener's patience with the instances of distortion which occur on this tune, and a couple of other vintage recordings included in the set.
The Lawton Legend Swings, is a forty-seven second excerpt of steel guitarist Chuck Caldwell in top form, soloing in a fashion that represents my primary attraction to western swing: creative, self-assuered and swinging improvisation in one's own individualistic style.
Track Three continues my homage to a family background in country music. Although My Bluest Day (written by Hal Rugg) is similar to "pop" music of its day, only someone with country music ties would have encountered this tune, as I did in 1963.
Global Jubilation is from Love's Bitter Rage, a Peace and Justice Suite recorded March 15, 2005. This tune exemplifies the joy of playing and listening to hard-driving, up-tempo acoustic jazz. Byron Gordon on bass and Joey Carter on drums cook like crazy!
Turning back in time, I conducted my first studio jazz session in August 1970. Strange Dream is a medium tempo groove that proved to be a high point, with Jerry Case featured on guitar displaying a natural affinity for this tune. Bassist Charles Scott and drummer Wayland Smajstrla assist admirably.
Excursion opens with a Bill Walker drum solo leading into solos and sensitive interplay among the other players: Jerry Case, Maurice Anderson, Jim Perkins and me. Here also is a prime example of pedal steel guitar in a pure jazz context with Maurice Anderson, one of the masterful talents who made the instrument seem at home in a modern jazz setting. This tune is from the last of the Case brothers' jazz LPs, recorded in August 1977.
Prelude #3 and Prelude #1 hearken back to my solo vibraphone LP of 1969. Vibra-Dream Currents (on the RPC label) set in motion my resolve to issue creative improvised music, totally free of commercial constraints.
Earlier this century, a friend asked me about my plans for more recordings and I replied that I'd done everything I ever wanted to do: vibrant new realizations of western swing by Roy Lee Brown and Tom Morrell, along with numerous other legends in that genre; several mainstream jazz albums with my brother Jerry Case, and his solo guitar LP of 1985, and the boundless expressive possibilities of free jazz or avant garde music. My attraction to musique concrete led to four CDs : Remnants, Auralaire, Ideal Misconceptions and Case in Review.
In acknowledgement of my 50 years as an indie, I wanted to include something not heard before on any of my previous releases. Patrick McGuire, my longtime friend and recording engineer, asked what had prompted me to choose three extremely short pieces by the highly respected composer Frank DeVol (1911-1999). The answer is simple: I have obsessed about this music for a very long time. I am grateful to Nathan Phelps, Jacob Burk, Keith Groh, Hugh Galyean and Patrick McGuire for their talented assistance in the realization of Three Cues by Frank DeVol. This project is the most unusual in my 50 year-old series.
Johnny Case - August 2019
Alternate Compilation, 2019: OTHER REALMS * Exploratory and Esoteric Music
All the selections on this CD-R were recorded at my favorite studio (since 1989), hence the audio quality is fine and more consistent than with Commemoration Set, comprised of material from a wide time-span (50 years!) and from many varying circumstances, some of which were sub-professional in audio quality. That is not the only difference, of course. Here, the disc showcases the most uncommercial musical tendencies I've engaged in during the past 27 years. My prior studio recordings of extremist expression took place in 1980 and 1981. I am not including my 1969 debut record of unaccompanied, totally improvised music on vibraphone. Although Vibra-Dream Currents occupies a unique place in my recorded output, it is not a studio recording. This current production is a catholic mixture including the opening art song for soprano with jazz trio accompanyment. Song of Solange is not improvised music, it is a musical setting inspired by a passage in The Maids, a play by Jean Genet.
Track Two, titled Run Free, is totally improvised avant garde jazz, although I freely and periodically use a melodic motif from another art song which is presented on the following track. Group interplay is of the essence in this type of music, and I was fortunate to have musicians who showed no fear of total freedom.
Love's Bitter Rage is sung in a Spanish version by the mezzo-soprano Claudia Gonzalez. The long intro and outro encase the core song with a hymn-like reverence for its truth and powerful social message.
From Where Strays Never Call Home presents a return to all-out improv in the free jazz mold. I am joined here by Jeremy Hull on bass and Daniel Tcheco on drums for some engaging three-way interplay
Lewis Worrell begins with piano and arco bass. There is no stated pulse until the theme is re-stated with drums added. What is perhaps not evident with the duo opening, is that the tune is a 12-bar blues. This is my tribute to a bassist heavily associated with the jazz avant garde, whose significant achievements were from 1964 through 1967, after which he left the national jazz scene and has seldom been heard from since. Byron Gordon solos with Duane Durrett on drums..
Song of No Return, is the most conventional piece heard in this set, and it concludes my portion of the CD program. It has a strong Latin flavor and includes a piano solo with solid support by bassist Byron Gordon and percusssionist Joey Carter.
Frank DeVol (1911-1999) wrote and conducted music for motion pictures, television, and the popular music market of the mid-twentieth century. Three Cues by Frank DeVol is from his soundtrack to the 1956 Robert Aldrich war film "Attack!". Having long been intrigued by this music, and the film for which it was written, I approached the talented Nathan Phelps for his assistance in making a new recording to "bring back to life" (in Phelps' words) this unusual and haunting music for lower voices. The viola heard on Cue #2 is played by a very gifted young musician, Jacob Burk. He needed no reference note in tuning his viola, and although I had indicated I would want three takes, he played the piece perfectly the first time...then gave me two more perfect takes! It is rare for a musician's pitch to be "dead center" in accuracy, as Burk's intonation consistently registered on the equipment at Patrick McGuire's studio. This most fitting addition to my more adventursome recording endevors completes this 2019 CD, issued to celebrate my 50th year as an indie artist /recordist..
All selections on this disc were recorded at Patrick McGuire Recording in Arlington, Texas.
I wish to thank the folowing people for their help in various projects that are represented in this compilation. They are: James Vernon, Charles Whitehead, Patrick McGuire, Kitty Case, Charles Duke, Bryan English, Dr. Misha Galaganov, Nathan Phelps and Joey Carter.
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. These recordings are so clearly and honestly "real", they serve as valid documentation of the work of the participants. As a bonus, 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 for 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 five days after my 23rd birthday. I was the young sprout in the group.
The format of this listing is title of work followed by date of recording. Works of musique concrete, different in nature from notated music, are identified as such. John Case is a member of ASCAP.
ADRIFT - 2005; AMENDS - 1977; ALIENATION (Musique Concrete) - 2005; AURALAIRE (Musique Concrete) - 1990; BIRDERIC - 1975 & 1991; BLUES FOR TED CURTIS - 1975; BUCKBOARD BOUNCE - 2007; CONTEMPLATION - 1971; COUNTRY WAYS - 2003; CRUDSCRAPER BLOOZE - 2005; DAYBREAK - 1971; DEBRIS (Musique Concrete) - 2005; DRIFTING BACK - 2005 & 2007; EMPATHY - 1977; EXCURSION - 1977; FIRE - 1970; FULL MOON - 1974; GLOBAL JUBILATION - 2005; HAUNTINGS MAGNETIQUE (Musique Concrete) - 2014; A HEART TO STEAL - 2003; HIGH STAKES - 1977; IN THE EAST - 1974; JUST IN SONG - 2003; LAMENTO (alternate titles: LOVE ASTRAY; PIANO'S LAMENT) - 2008; LEWIS WORRELL - 2003; LOST COUNTRY - 2005; LOVE'S BITTER RAGE - 2005; LOVE SURVIVES - 2005; MID-AFTERNOON - 1971: MIGA SOUNDSCAPE (Musique Concrete) - 2015; MIGRATION STATION (Musique Concrete) - 2014; MORNING SONG - 1971; A NEW MOON - 1977; NO LITTLE LAMENT - 2005; ODE TO A CAPTOR PARAGON (Musique Concrete) - 2014; ODE TO JEAN GENET - 1991; ONE AMONG THE DALTONS - 2003; ONE BUD LEFT TO BLOSSOM - 2008; ONE LOVE - 2003; ONE TOO FEW - 1991; THE OPEN SEA - 1991; PASSING THROUGH - 1975; QUARRY'S PLIGHT - 1991; RANCH HOUSE RENDEZVOUS - 2007; REMNANTS (Musique Concrete) - 1982; RIDING HIGH - 2007; SERENADE - 1974 & 1975; SONG OF NO RETURN - 2005; SONG OF SOLANGE - 1991 & 1992 (vocal version); STRANGE DREAM - 1970; SUMMONS - 1970; TURNING POINT - 1971; THE VEILS - 2001; WAITING FOR THE MOMENT - 2003: WESTERN SAGA SWING - 2007.
June 14, 2018 marks thirty years since the death of my mother, Floy Case. Her name is well known to scholars of early country music because she was a "Pioneer Country Music Journalist", as officially recognized in 1983 by the Country Music Foundation in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition, she wrote songs (one was recorded by Ernest Tubb for Decca Records) and she helped manage programs and fan mail for Bill Case and his Melody Boys, with whom my dad J.C. Case was mandolinist and harmony vocalist. In her writings she often praised young talent she heard on the live music radio broadcasts of the 1930's and 40's. She gave Hank Thompson his first publicity when he was still in Waco, Texas. He never forgot this boost to his career, which became among the biggest in country music history. In the 1950's her feature stories appeared in newstand publications such as Folk and Country Songs and Country Song Round-Up. Again, Floy Case was the first to recognize a young talent when she wrote about Charlie Walker and correctly predicted that he would became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Other favorites of hers included Billy Walker, Justin Tubb (and his legendary father), Merle Travis, Jimmy Wakely, the late Jimmie Rodgers who had inspired a whole generation of performers including Gene Autry, Jimmie Davis, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash and countless others. Through an introduction by E.T., my mom became a close friend of Carrie Rodgers, the widow of the "Singing Brakeman". Carrie lived to promote the work of her late husband Jimmie Rodgers, and to keep his name and career before the country music public. In her later years when illness prevented Carrie from writing all assignments (including liner notes and magazine articles) my mother became Carrie's ghost writer. Out of a sense of loyalty my mom never divulged this fact until the historian Ronnie Pugh virtually pulled the information from her in an early 1980s interview, more than twenty years after her friend's death.
My mom was a greater influence on me than I realized when she was alive. Now, I recognize that she still influences me a lot. It's a most positive influence and I am grateful that she loved music and was a source of encouragement for young aspiring performers. It was a gift she was known to give.
The program entitled "REMEMBERING SARDINES", a fundraiser to help Kenny Hardee get a liver transplant, surpassed my hopeful expectations. The entire event was a great outpouring of love and support. All of the talented musicians played their hearts out with no monetary compensation. Every item in the silent auction was sold and numerous donations in addition to the cover charge totaled $4100 after venue expenses were subtracted.
Kenny and Adrienne Hardee are a very gracious young couple who are valiantly facing this life-threatening challenge. My deepest gratitude goes to everyone who gave so generously to this worthy cause. My sincere thanks extends to those in the media who exemplified human kindness in publicizing this memorable event. Donations may still be made online by visiting www.youcaring.com/Liverforkenny
The event describled below is SOLD OUT !! Many thanks to everyone who will attend and to those in the media who helped publicize this event.
ARTS FIFTH AVENUE, Fort Worth's premiere performance space, will present "REMEMBERING SARDINES" on Friday, December 1, 2017. The event will offer a night of live jazz and Italian cuisine in remembrance of the now defunct venue Sardines Ristorante Italiano, which was a Fort Worth landmark from 1979 through 2011. All proceeds from this event will go to help Kenny Hardee (one of Sardines' former managers) who is in desperate need of a liver transplant. Although Mr. Hardee is employed and has medical insurance, out-of-pocket costs for this operation add up to a daunting 100,000 (!). Please join Gracey Tune and Deb Wood along with pianist Johnny Case, multi-instrumentalists Joey Carter, Chris White, Keith Wingate and others for this worthy cause.
A silent auction will offer an impressive selection of collectible items: Tommy Tune Lithograph, Arts Fifth Avenue Django Reinhardt gift pack, framed 1989 Cliburn poster with artwork signed by Robert Rauschenberg, Sardines crew poster photograph by Michael Bodycomb, abstract oil painting by Johnny Case, sax player painting by Johnny Case, original line art drawing of bassist Charles Scott by Michael Pellecchia, Suzan England's flute, antique trunk owned by Suzan England, golf package donated by Colonial Country Club, a Sardines T-shirt, a gift pack of Sardines memorablia, and more.
Master of Ceremonies for this event will be Ray Conrow, assisted by Kitty Case. Guest musicians will include saxophonist Jeff Todd; trombonist Pat Brown; bassman Ray Conrow plus a few surprise guests. Gracey Tune, Deb Wood and Kitty Case will prepare Italian food for all attendees to enjoy in fond remembrance of a unique venue known for its fine acoustic jazz and romantic atmosphere as well as its Southern Italian food. Admission price is $25.00 each. Dinner is included in the cover charge. Please note: If you've not made reservations but plan to attend, make your reservations ASAP. The number of people expected to attend is important for food planning purposes. Call: 817-923-9500. Event hours are 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM at Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Avenue, Fort Worth, TX 76104.
The music wasn't unnamable because it was given many names. Among its listeners and critics there seemed to be no consensus of a universally accepted label to cover the varied innovative approaches to revolutionary jazz from the late 1950's through the 1960's. My awakening to the wide world of modern jazz occurred in my teen years. As a budding musician, I loved the preceding stages of this music's evolution and aspired to become adept at playing everything from 1930's "swing" through the early-1960's gospel-tinged "soul" jazz, with special emphasis on absorbing the most challenging 1940's "bebop" innovations of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. All the while, in keeping informed through incessant reading about jazz, I was fully aware that while the bebop revolution had been triggered by young musicians' dissatisfaction with their perceived creative limitations of the swing idiom, the music of my own era was entering another musical revolution by restless young musicians revolting against what the challenging bebop had become in its various descendant forms such hard bop, "mainstream" and "cool" jazz.
The introduction of modal jazz (favored by Miles Davis and John Coltrane) was a desire to push the boundries of jazz into unchartered territory. This produced some refreshing music somewhat different from previously heard forms. Modal jazz was not, however, a true pathway to freedom, being more restrictive harmonically than some of the more adventurous bop. The music of Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols and Randy Weston exhibited greater rhythmic and harmonic diversity and freedom. As such, their music inspired a new breed of musicians seeking a manner of expression unencumbered by many of the rules inherent with all the previous developments in the evolution of modern jazz. My own goal was to learn the music I loved, which meant the music that the new breed was rebelling against. As I progressed in my mission, however, I grew intensely curious about the exciting new development of "new breed" artists such as Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. I would soon be trying to grasp both the bebop concept and free jazz explorations, the latter of which were collectively most often referred to as "The New Thing".
The controversy created by the musical mavericks of the late 1950's and early to mid-1960's was astounding. Most established jazz artists were very outspoken in their negative reaction, to the point it seemed that some mainstream players must have felt threatened by any public acceptance of a music so radically different than that which they had spent so many years learning and honing their improvising skills. You could hear some say: "If what they're doing is the right way, then all the years I've spent learning how to play was all for nothing?!" I personally never saw the arrival of this startling new music as a "replacement" but as an alternative. I did not believe the choice meant choosing one approach to the exclusion of the other. As for the players themselves...yes, each approach required a serious commitment for the fullest realization in performance. Artists who embraced and sought to perform both mainstream jazz and avant garde were scarce indeed.
I learned to recognize references to this new musical development by many names: Avant Garde, Free Jazz, The New Music, New Black Music, Outside Jazz, Free Form, The New Wave, Energy Music, The New Thing, and, in certain musicians' circles, "Outside Shit". The most hostile reactionaries designated it "Anti-Jazz"! The New Music was not based on standard songs, or song forms. Revolutioanary jazz compositions often had no conventional harmonic foundation, as in no chord progression. To improvisers of the earlier forms of jazz, this was a radical break and it created a dilemma for players at a loss for creating with no guiding framework. Among the more radical of new original jazz compositions were those with no key signature and no bar lines. The more open-minded musicians perceived new possibilities based on melody and rhythm and an organic development of those elements. The various innovators in this new realm found their own disparate and individualistic ways to play "free" music.
The Ornette Coleman concept is different from Cecil Taylor's, yet both composer-performers share credit as the pioneers of free jazz. They ushered in an era of exploratory inventiveness freed from restrictions applied to all the former stages in the development of modern jazz. One retained element in their music of the 1950's was the steady pulse, the swinging beat. Most listeners (especially musicians) were so shocked at the absence of chord changes, numerous jarring effects within improvised solos and abandonment of familiar tunes long favored by many jazz listeners, no one seemed to notice that the music still swung in the usual manner of conventional jazz. That would change: In 1962, while playing in Copenhagen with a trio sans a bass player, Cecil Taylor opted to further free his music from past conventions. Cecil suggested to his drummer that he provide a textural rhythmic interplay rather than a stated tempo. Sunny Murray, who had played with Taylor's group for over a year, became the first jazz drummer to completely abandon time-keeping. He is the father of free jazz drumming and a master at his art.
UPDATE: December 19, 2017
Sunny Murray passed away in Paris on December 7, 2017 at the age of 81. Mr. Murray had remained active in Europe with concert appearances and recordings. In freeing drums from its traditional time-keeping role, he expanded the coloristic, textural and expressive possibilities of his instrument. Considering the immense importance of his contribution to the development of creative improvised music, his name and his work should be better known. If Sunny Murray had received the recognition he deserved I would not be writing a description of his attributes and accomplishments. Better yet, listen to his music on the innumerable recordings available from multi-national sources. Sunny Murray, who was born September 21, 1936 in Idabel, Oklahoma, USA - died in France, a citizen of the universe! May he rest in peace.
more to come...
"More to come" proved an ironic and sorrowful prediction. In less than four months after the post dedicated to Sunny Murray, three other key figures in The New Music have passed: trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and pianist/composer/poet/ New Music pioneer Cecil Taylor. With the passing of Cecil, who was the first true free jazz innovator (his record debut "Jazz Advance" on the Transition label was issued in 1956) most of the first wave giants are gone. Two notable exceptions: Henry Grimes and Archie Shepp. Now deceased are Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Paul Bley, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Roswell Rudd, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray and Cecil. I consider Sun Ra part of the second wave although his quirky post-bop big band performances date back to the mid-1950's. His particular brand of weirdness gradually grew into a unique free jazz for large ensemble in the next decade, in the midst of a whirlwind of avant garde activity by the first wave innovators and the rapidly emerging second wave represented by artists such as Milford Graves, Don Pullen, Michael Mantler, Carla Bley, Gary Peacock, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Lewis Worrell, Sam Rivers, Marion Brown, Charles Tyler and Frank Wright.
I will list the recordings that comprise my personal collection of avant garde-free jazz-New Music as performed by the original, innovative creators.
JAZZ ADVANCE - Cecil Taylor 1956 - In my collection is the Transition LP reissue on Blue Note CDP 7 84462 2
Cecil Taylor, piano; Steve Lacy, soprano sax; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums
SOMETHING ELSE! THE MUSIC OF ORNETTE COLEMAN - Ornette Coleman 1958 Contemporary LP C 3551 plus CD-R
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Walter Norris, piano; Don Moore, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
LOOKING AHEAD - Cecil Taylor 1958 Contemporary LP reissued on Contemporary OJCCD-452-2 (S-7562)
Cecil Taylor, piano; Earl Griffith, vibraharp; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums.
TOMORROW IS THE QUESTION - Ornette Coleman 1959 Contemporary LP M 356
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Percy Heath or Red Mitchell, bass; Shelly Manne, drums.
LOVE FOR SALE - Cecil Taylor 1959 United Artists UA
Bill Barron, tenor; Ted Curson, trumpet, Cecil Taylor, piano; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums.
THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME - Ornette Coleman 1959 Atlantic 1317
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
CHANGE OF THE CENTURY - Ornette Coleman 1959 Atlantic 81341
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
JAZZ IN THE SPACE AGE - George Russell Orchestra 1960 Decca GRP CD GRD-826
Soloists include pianists Paul Bley and Bill Evans performing duets of free improvisations.
THE AVANT GARDE - John Coltrane / Don Cherry 1960 Atlantic LP Reissue: Atlantic CD 7 90041-2
John Coltrane, tenor sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden or Percy Heath, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
FATE IN A PLEASANT MOOD - Sun Ra and his Myth-Science Arkestra 1960 Saturn LP SR9956 - 2 - B
John Gilmore, tenor sax; Marshall Allen, alto sax; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Phil Cohran, trumpet; George Hudson, trumpet;
Eddy Skinner, drums; Sun Ra, piano and leader.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC - Ornette Coleman Quartet 1960 Atlantic LP 1353
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
OUT THERE - Eric Dolphy 1960 Prestige New Jazz LP ---- CD-R digital transfer
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet, flute, clarinet; Ron Carter, cello; George Tucker, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.
PORT OF CALL - Cecil Taylor 1960 Originally issued on Candid LP as The World of Cecil Taylor. CD reissue: Past Perfect 220370-203
Cecil Taylor, piano; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums. Also, Clark Terry, trumpet; Archie Shepp, tenor sax; Roswell
Rudd, trombone; Steve Lacy, soprano sax; Charles Davis, baritone sax; Billy Higgins, drums.
JAZZ ABSTRACTIONS - John Lewis / Gunther Schuller 1960 Atlantic LP ----- CD-R digital transfer
This music exemplifies the genre known as Third Stream Music which combines classical and jazz musicians performing compositions of an advanced and experimental nature. Among several jazz soloists featured on this recording are the avant garde musicians Ornette Coleman, alto sax and Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet.
FAR CRY - Eric Dolphy 1960 Prestige New Jazz LP ----- CD-R digital transfer
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; Booker Little, trumpet; Jaki Byard, piano; George Tucker, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.
FREE JAZZ - Ornette Coleman Double Quartet 1960 Atlantic LP CD reissue: Atlantic 1364-2
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Scott LaFaro, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
Note: Eric Dolphy had a very busy (and musically rewarding) day in the studios, as both Free Jazz, and his own date Far Cry (the previous entry) were recorded on December 21, 1960.
EZZTHETICS - George Russell Sextet 1961 Riverside OJCCD-070-2 CD reissue
Don Ellis, trumpet; Dave Baker, trombone; Eric Dolphy, alto sax & bass clarinet; George Russell, piano; Stephen Swallow, bass; Joe Hunt, drums.
ORNETTE ON TENOR - Ornette Coleman 1961 Atlantic LP 1394 a digital transfer to CD-R also in collection
Ornette Coleman, tenor sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
ERIC DOLPHY AT THE FIVE SPOT, VOLS. 1,2,3. - Eric Dolphy 1961 Prestige LPs CD Reissue of Vol. 1 in collection. Note: Volume 3 is titled
"Eric Dolphy and Booker Little Memorial Album".
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, flute & bass clarinet; Booker Little, trumpet; Mal Waldron, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
CARLA - Jimmy Guiffre Trio (a live recording of the Jimmy Guiffre Trio in Concert) 1961 Giants of Jazz CD 53257
Jimmy Guiffre, clarinet; Paul Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass.
JOHN COLTRANE LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD (The Master Takes) - John Coltrane 1961 Impulse CD IMPD-251
John Coltrane, tenor and soprano saxophones; Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet; McCoy Tyner, piano; Reggie Workman, bass; Jimmy Garrisom, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.
INTO THE HOT - Gil Evans Orchestra (three selections are by the Cecil Taylor Unit) 1961 Impulse LP A-9: Impulse CD MCAD-39104
Personnel for the Cecil Taylor Unit: Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; Cecil Taylor, piano; Henry Grimes, bass; Sunny Murray, drums. On one selection add Ted Curson, trumpet and Roswell Rudd, trombone.
ART FORMS FROM DIMENSIONS TOMORROW - Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra 1962 Saturn LP No. 9956
John Gilmore, tenor saxophone & bass clarinet; Marshall Allen, alto saxophone & percussion;; Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone, clarinet, misc. percussion; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Clifford Jarvis, percussion; Ali Hassan, trombone; Jimhmi Johnson, percussion; Clifford Thornton, trumpet; John Ore, bass; Manny Smith, trumpet; C. Scoby Stroman, percussion; Tommy Hunter, percussion; Sun Ra, piano, sun harp & percussion.
THE ARCHIE SHEPP-BILL DIXON QUARTET - Archie Shepp - Bill Dixon Quartet 1962 Savoy LP MG-12178 also: CD-R
Bill Dixon, trumpet; Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone, Don Moore, bass; Paul Cohen, drums. On two selections, Reggie Workman plays bass and Howard McRae plays drums.
THE FIRST RECORDINGS - Albert Ayler 1962 Sonet LP SNTF 604 also in collection as CD-R
Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Torbjorn Hultcrantz, bass; Sune Spangberg, drums.
LIVE AT THE CAFE MONTMARTRE - Cecil Taylor 1962 Fantasy LP 6014 Also: "Trance" Black Lion CD BLCD 760220
Cecil Taylor, piano; Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Sunny Murray, drums.
SECRETS OF THE SUN - Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra 1962 Saturn LP 9954 also in collection as CD-R
John Gilmore, tenor saxophone & bass clarinet; Marshall Allen, alto saxophone, flute; Tommy Hunter, drums; Ronald Boykins, bass; Calvin Newborn, guitar; Al Evans, flugel horn; Pat Patrick, flute; Eddie Gale, trumpet; Sun Ra, piano, gong & sun harp; Art Jnkens, "space voice"; Jimhmi Johnson, percussion; C. Scoby Stroman, drums.
FOOTLOOSE - Paul Bley 1962 (one track only. Other tracks with different personnel rec. in 1963) CD-R of the Savoy LP
Paul Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Pete LaRoca, drums.
HOLY GHOST - Albert Ayler (with Cecil Taylor Unit) 1962 Revelation CD This Albert Ayler CD release is a 9-disc boxed set. Disc No. 1
includes a lengthy radio broadcast performance of Ayler sitting in with Cecil Taylor's group, a significant and historic recording.
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Cecil Taylor, piano; Sunny Murray, drums.
TOWN HALL CONCERT * 1962 - Ornette Coleman Dec. 1962 ESP-DISK 1006 LP
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; David Izenzohn bass; Charles Moffett, drums.
MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER - Albert Ayler 1963 Fantasy LP 86016 Black Lion CD reissue BLCD760211
Albert Ayler, soprano & tenor saxophones; Niels Bronsted, piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Petersen, bass; Ronnie Gardiner, drums.
IRON MAN - Eric Dolphy 1963 CD-R from Douglas LP
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet & flute; Woody Shaw, trumpet; Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; Eddie Kahn, bass; J.C. Moses,
THE ILLINOIS CONCERT - Eric Dolphy 1963 CD-R from the Blue Note CD: CDP 599826
Eric Dolphy, flute, bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Herbie Hancock, piano; Eddie Kahn, bass; J.C. Moses, drums.
COSMIC TONES FOR MENTAL THERAPY - Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra. 1963 Saturn LP Vol. II 408
John Gilmore, tbass clarinet; Marshall Allen, alto saxophone, alto sax, flute; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Danny Davis, Alto sax & flute; Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone; Robert Cummings, reeds; James Jackson, log drums & flute; Clifford Jarvis; percussion; T. Hunter, percussion; Sun Ra; organ, Clavoline, "Cosmic Side Drum".
MUSIC MATADOR - Eric Dolphy 1963 Originally issued as "Conversations" on the FM label. LP reissue "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Album" in
1964 on Vee Jay LP VJ-2503; CD reissue "Music Matador" Vee Jay/Collector's Choice CDL-CD 7154.
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, flute & bass clarinet; Woody Shaw, trumpet; Prince Lasha, reeds; Sonny Simmons, reeds; Eddie Kahn, bass; J.C. Moses, drums; Richard Davis, bass; Bobby Hutcherson, vibes.
FOOTLOOSE - Paul Bley 1963 (5 tracks from 1963 plus one track with different personnel recorded in 1962) CD-R from the Savoy LP
Paul Bley, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; Paul Motian, drums.
WITCHES AND DEVILS - Albert Ayler 1964 Arista AL 1018 LP and 1201 Jazz Greats 9006-2 CD.
Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Norman Howard, trumpet; Earle Henderson, bass; Henry Grimes, bass; Sunny Murray, drums.
OUT TO LUNCH - Eric Dolphy 1964 Blue Note LP and Blue Note CD
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet & flute; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; Richard Davis, bass; Anthony Williams, drums.
POINT OF DEPARTURE - Andrew Hill 1964 Blue Note LP Blue Note CD
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet & flute; Kenny Dorham, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone; Richard Davis, bass; Anthony Williams, drums.
BILL DIXON 7-TETTE - Bill Dixon 1964 / NEW YORK CONTEMPORARY 5 - New York Contemporary 5 1964 Savoy MG
The music of each group comprises a side of this shared LP:
1st group - Bill Dixon, fleugelhorn; Ken McIntyre, oboe, alto sax; George Barrow, tenor sax; Hal Dobson, bass; David Izenzon, bass; Howard Johnson, tuba & baritone; Howard McRae, drums.
2nd group - Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; Don Cherry, trumpet; John Tchicai, alto saxophoe; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Ted Curson (guest), trumpet; Sunny Murray, drums.
SPIRITUAL UNITY - Albert Ayler Trio 1964 ESP-Disk 1002 LP Also CD-R
Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Gary Peacock, bass; Sunny Murray, drums.
PROPHESY - Albert Ayler Trio 1964 ESP-Disk 1010-2 CD release (paired with BELLS, quintet live recording from 1965).
Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Gary Peacock, bass; Sunny Murray, drums.
PHARAOH'S FIRST - Pharaoh Sanders 1964 ESP-Disk 1003 LP and ESP 1003-2 CD
Pharaoh Sanders, tenor saxophone; Stan Foster, trunpet; Jane Getz, piano; William Bennett, bass; Marvin Pattillo, drums.
LAST DATE - Eric Dolphy 1964 Limelight LS86013 LP
Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet, alto saxophone & flute; Misja Mengelberg, piano; Jacques Schols, bass; Han Bennink, drums.
THE BYRON ALLEN TRIO - Byron Allen Trio 1964 ESP-Disk 1005-2 CD
Byron Allen, alto saxophone; Marceo Gilchrist, bass; Ted Robinson, drums.
FOUR FOR TRANE - Archie Shepp 1964 Impulse IMPD-218 CD
Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; Alan Shorter, fluegel horn; John Tchcai, alto saxophoe; Roswell Rudd, trombone; Reggie Workman, bass; Charles Moffett, drums.
NEW YORK ART QUARTET - New York Art Quartet 1964 ESP-Disk 1004 LP and ESP-Disk 1004-2 CD
Roswell Rudd, trombone; John Tchcai, alto saxophone; Lewis Worrell, bass; Milford Graves, percussion; LeRoi Jones, recitation.
GIUSEPPI LOGAN QUARTET - Giuseppi Logan Quartet 1964 ESP-Disk 1007 LP CD-R
Giuseppi Logan, tenor sax, alto sax, Pakistani oboe; Don Pullen, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; Milford Graves, percussion.
NEW YORK EYE AND EAR CONTROL - Albert Ayler 1964 . ESP-Disk 1016 LP CD-R
Don Cherry, trumpet; Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; John Tchcai, alto saxophone; Roswell Rudd, trombone; Gary Peacock, bass; Sunny Murray, drums.
LOWELL DAVIDSON TRIO - Lowell Davidson Trio 1965 ESP-Disk 1012 LP CD-R
Lowell Davidson, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; Milford Graves, percussion.
YOU NEVER HEARD SUCH SOUNDS IN YOUR LIFE! - Milford Graves Percussion Ensemble 1965 ESP-Disk 1015 CD-R
Milford Graves and Sonny Morgan, percussion.
THE HELIOCENTRIC WORLDS OF SUN RA - Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra 1965 ESP-Disk 1014 LP ESP-Disk 1014-2 CD
John Gilmore, tenor saxophone; Marshall Allen, alto saxophone, piccolo, bells; Pat Patrick, baritone sax & percussion; Chris Capers, trumpet; Teddy Nance, trombone; Bernard Pettaway, bass trombone; Danny Davis, flute & alto sax; Jimhmi Johnson, percussion, tympani; Robert Cummings, bass clarinet, wood blocks; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Sun Ra, bass marimba, electronic celeste, piano & tympani.
SPIRITS REJOICE - Albert Ayler 1965 ESP-DISK 1020 LP ESP-DISK 1020-2 CD
Don Ayler, trumpet; Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Charles Tyler, alto saxophone; Gary Peacock, bass; Henry Grimes, bass; Sunny Murray, drums; Call Cobbs, Jr., harpsichord.
CLOSER - Paul Bley 1965 ESP-Disk 1021 LP ESP-DIsk 1021-2 CD
Paul Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Barry Altshol, drums.
MARION BROWN QUARTET - Marion Brown 1965 ESP-Disk 1022 LP
Marion Brown, alto saxophone; Alan Shorter, trumpet; Rashied Ali, percussion; Benny Maupin, tenor saxophone; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Reggie Johnson, bass.
ASCENSION - John Coltrane Orchestra 1965 Impulse LP
John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Art Davis, bass; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone; John Tchcai, alto saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Marion Brown, alto saxophone; Dewey Johnson, trumpet; Elvin Jones, drums.
FIRE MUSIC - Archie Shepp 1965 Impulse LP
Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; Ted Curson, trumpet; Marion Brown, alto saxophone; Joseph Orange, trombone; Reggie Johnson, bass; Joe Chambers, drums.
FRANK WRIGHT TRIO - Frank Wright 1965 ESP-Disk 1023 LP
Frank Wright, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Tom Price, drums.
PATTY WATERS SINGS - Patty Waters 1965 ESP-Disk 1025 LP and CD
Side A: Patty Waters, voice & piano; Side B: Patty Waters, voice; Burton Greene, piano; Steve Tintweiss, bass; Tom Price, drums.
HENRY GRIMES TRIO - Henry Grimes 1965 ESP-Disk 1026 LP CD-R
Henry Grimes, bass; Perry Robimson, clarinet; Tom Price, drums.
SONNY'S TIME NOW - Sonny Murray 1965 DIW-355 CD (Originally issued on Jihad LP)
Don Cherry, trumpet; Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Louis Worrell, bass; Sonny Murray, drums, Leroy Jones, recitation.
(Note the curious alternate first-name spellings for the last three performers. The poet produced this album, hence the spellings were no doubt intentional).
AT THE "GOLDEN CIRCLE" STOCKHOLM, Volume One - Ornette Coleman Trio December 3 & 4, 1965 Blue Note 7243 5 355 18-2 CD
Ornette Coleman, alto saxophone; David Izenzon, bass; Charles Moffett, drums.
AT THE "GOLDEN CIRCLE" STOCKHOLM, Volume Two - Ornette Coleman Trio 1965 Blue Note 4225 LP
Ornette Coleman, alto sax, trumpet & violin; Devid Izenzon, Charles Moffett, drums.
CHARLES TYLER ENSEMBLE - Charles Tyler 1966 ESP-Disk 1029 LP CD-R
Charles Tyler, alto saxophone; Charles Moffett, orchestra vibes; Henry Grimes, bass; Ronald Jackson, drums.
UNIT STRUCTURES - Cecil Taylor Unit May 19, 1966 Blue Note 7777-84237-2 CD
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Eddie Gale Stevens, Jr., trumpet; Ken McIntyre, alto saxophone, oboe, bass clarinet; Alan Silva, bass; Henry Grimes, bass; Cecil Taylor, piano & bells; Andrew Cyrille, drums.
COLTRANE LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD AGAIN! - John Coltrane May 28, 1966 A-9124 LP
John Coltrane, tenor and soprano saxophones; Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Alice Coltrane, piano; Rashied Ali, drums.
more to come.....
Roy Lee Brown passed away on Friday, May 26, 2017 at the age of 96, a few days after suffering a massive stroke. I had known him since the spring of 1987, when my wife Kitty and I attended "Brownie Day", held annually at the Gilbert Ranch west of Fort Worth. Why it had taken me so many years to attend I cannot say. I had known and loved the music of Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies since first hearing reissued recordings on the Dance-O-Rama set Decca released in the mid-1950's. I will never forget first meeting Roy Lee, and being startled at the physical resemblance to his late brother whose photo was prominently displayed on the Decca record sleeve. Scholars of early country music acknowledge Milton Brown as the founding father of western swing music. In meeting Roy Lee, I already knew that he was the youngest and only surving brother of the great singer/bandleader whose vision and musical innovations in the mid-1930's would establish the model for Bob Wills and numerous others to emulate and reshape in correspondence to their own tastes, imagination and ambition. This was the beginning of a friendship and productive working relationship that would develop before the 1980's were gone.
My invitation to attend Brownie Day had come from my friend Billy Luttrell, a fine guitarist who owned and operated a music store in Fort Worth. He had invited me in previous years, but this time for whatever reason it felt right to go. The atmosphere: lively and friendly with a variety of scrumptious aromas emanating from the kitchen. A large table crowded with delectable food choices greeted all guests at this annual ranch house party. I recall sitting in for pianist Charlie O'Bannon, and playing with a small group of western musicians, but it wasn't until afterward that someone introduced Kitty and me to Roy Lee Brown. He had perhaps sung before we arrived, but when we met him he was in an adjoining room to the one where music was being played. We were impressed with his warm smile and the apparent joy it gave him in welcoming us to the event, which had long ago been established to honor the memory of his brother and the enormous contribution made to Texas music by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies. We also met Roy Lee's wife Ellen, whose manner was gracious and kind. They had been married for many years. Little did Kitty and I know that within a couple of years the four of us would become well acquainted, primarily from the shared desire to bring to the public an invigorated revisitation of the musical legacy that was Roy Lee's inheritance.
My mom, Floy Case, had recently become aware that Roy Lee sought performance opportunities, having retired from being a fireman with the Fort Worth Fire Department. He wanted to use his new free time to play the music he remembered so well from his teen years when he often accompanied his older brothers Milton and Derwood with the band on their numerous dance gigs. Roy Lee had served behind the scenes, changing strings for guitarist Derwood, as strings would invariably break during a long night of heavy playing. Floy Case encouraged her friend Johnnie High to book Roy Lee on his popular Saturday night Country Music Revue. Normally anyone desiring to perform on High's very professional show would be required to audition. My mom assured Johnnie that in this instance, no audition was nescessary! Indeed, Roy Lee Brown performed in primo fashion, backed by the CMR house band including pedal steel guitarist Maurice Anderson, a masterful swing stylist in his own right. Needless to say, Roy Lee was invited back for future appearances on the popular opry-styled show. My chance to hear Roy Lee and to accompany his singing would be in a similar setting, when a special program entitled A Journey through Western Swing was produced at the Grapevine Opry a few miles north of Fort Worth. I still have a newspaper clipping (alas with no date attached) touting the event which featured Leon Rausch (who had gained popularity as a vocalist with Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys) along with Roy Lee Brown, vocals; Tommy Camfield and Bobby Boatright, fiddles; Tom Morrell, steel guitar; Billy Luttrell, rhythm guitar; Lanny Long, bass; David Brown, drums and myself on piano. During Roy Lee Brown's segment of the show he spoke on the mic, addressing the wide acceptance of Bob Wills as the "King of Western Swing". He asked that if we give that distinction to Wills, then consider the importance of the prior innovations of Milton Brown and acknowledge Brown as the "Father of Western Swing". There was no trace of bitterness in Roy Lee's message, simply an intense need to educate those born too late to have experienced the Milton Brown phenomenon, and to implore aficionados of western swing to give credit where it was due. I was impressed with his performance of songs from the Milton Brown repertoire, and with his commitment to this musical mission.
The approaching summer of 1988 brought shock and sorrow to the Case family and to the many friends of Floy Case. She died suddenly in the early morning hours of June 14. The last several years of her life had been remarkably active, and her recently acquired friends spanned all age groups. Late in her life she told me that western swing was her favorite kind of music. I recalled that my mother attended the show I had played with Roy Lee Brown, Leon Rausch, Tommy Camfield and others. By mid-1989 I felt compelled to call Roy Lee Brown and ask if he would like to record a tribute to Milton. I got the sense that he'd been having similar thoughts. He and I agreed to do a co-op project and he kindly let me take responsibility for putting together the musicians I felt would be second to none !
Coincidentally, it was during this time period that mega-talented Tom Morrell had begun making occasional visits to my jazz gig at Sardines Ristorante Italiano. Morrell lived outside of Dallas, so whenever he was in Fort Worth for a gig or whatever purpose, he'd stop by. Most often it was on a night when I played solo piano, during the week. Tom would order an Italian dinner, listen to a set and then we'd talk on my break. I had known Tom since 1964. We'd first recorded together as sidemen in 1969, and in the 1970's I featured his jazz steel guitar styings on several albums on my own indy label, Priority Records. Ironically, it was because of my mom that I'd heard a recent (1980's) Leon Rausch album with some wondrous pedal steel guitar work by this masterful musician. I had long been aware there was no one better than Tom for western swing pedal steel. I also knew that he deserved to have his own album. The high regard with which I held his steel playing was such that my desire to record Roy Lee Brown was practically contingent on Tom's participation. I therefore asked Tom to cooperate with me on a 1989 co-op project between me and Roy Lee Brown with the understanding that the following year he and I would produce Tom's first album issued under his name. I assured Tom that it would be "his baby". He would be free to choose the musicians (with one stipulation for pianist!) and it would be his choice of tunes, arrangements, tempos, sequencing, packaging...he would control all facets of the album. Tom agreed, so with assistance from guitarist Billy Luttrell, I began contacting the other players I had in mind to accompany Roy Lee Brown on his debut album.
During our phone conversations, it was clear that Roy Lee and I both wanted to approach the Brownie repertoire with a modern concept. After all, Milton Brown was modern in his day. Actually he was a musical trailblazer, and any attempt to "honor" him by playing in an "old timey" manner would miss the point or, worse... it would be insulting to Brown's innovative accomplishments.
There would be no attempt to emulate the original Brownies. The members of that historic assembly consisted of Milton Brown, vocals and band leader; Cecil Brower and Jesse Ashlock (or later, Cliff Bruner) fiddles; Fred "Papa" Calhoun, piano; Bob Dunn, amplified steel guitar; Derwood Brown, rhythm guitar and harmony vocals; Ocie Stockard, tenor banjo and Wanna Coffman, bass.
Roy Lee advised me not to try to play like Papa Calhoun. He likewise did not wish for Morrell to play lap steel, which was Tom's inclination. Roy Lee was emphatic that his preference was for pedal steel, exactly as I had hoped would be the case. Twin fiddles (one of Milton's "firsts" in a western band) were of utmost importance. Also a two-four swing rhythm rather than the hard-driving four-four was a signature element in Brownie music. The easy, relaxed swing of the original Brownies could be quite hypnotic, and there's something magical in the chemistry of those particular musicians. The joy radiating from their unity is of a nature such as I've never heard in any other band. The primary point is: There will never be another band like Milton Brown's. The project ahead of us had another intent: Show that the music of Milton and his remarkable band is viable in today's context. I liked that this goal was important to Roy Lee, who so thoroughly knew this music and the men who had made it. The depression era needed a music that was uplifting, and its power to make folks temporarily forget their troubles may be at the heart of a musical freshness that remains unfaded by passing styles and trends through the subsequent decades.
I got to work on recruiting new "Brownies". In addition to Morrell, who would the other band members be? The great Tommy Camfield, fiddler extraordinaire (and perfect for this project) had recently passed away. My queries to Carroll Hubbard and Buddy Wallis were not productive. In the meantime, Billy Luttrell called to tell me that Leon Rausch would play bass and sing harmony vocals with Roy Lee. As rhythm guitarist, Billy Luttrell was an integral part of this emerging band. It was either Billy Luttrell or Roy Lee who suggested fiddler Randy "Snuffy" Elmore, whom I did not know. After Elmore confirmed his participation, he recommended Wes Westmoreland as his twin fiddle partner. Wes was also someone I hadn't known before, but the these two fiddlers provided the greatest and happiest surprise of the project. Randy Elmore and Wes Westmoreland play together as one, in their phrasing and with violin tones that are a perfect blend. There are no intonation problems with this team. I was amazed at how quickly they could create new arrangements for the tunes, some of which they had probably never heard before! Elmore and Westmoreland are both lively and imaginative soloists. Elmore also plays great electric mandolin and contributes wonderful solos on both instruments.
David Brown (no relation to Roy Lee) was to be our drummer when we first began making plans, and I honestly don't remember exactly what happened. I remember that we had to find a drummer because David Brown was no longer in the picture. When the name Bob Venable entered my thoughts, there was no need to look any further. I knew of him because he had sat in with my brother Jerry Case, who liked Bob's tasteful, swinging approach. Bob was from Chicago and had played a lot of dixieland jazz (including one night with trumpeter Bobby Hackett). After relocating in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, he found work playing with tenor banjo wizard Marvin "Smokey" Montgomery. Some of that work was in a dixieland context, and some was with the Light Crust Doughboys on their dance gigs. Marvin, whose career dated back to the beginnings of western swing, was a friend of Roy Lee Brown. The fact that Bob Venable was Marvin's first call whenever he needed a drummer was ample verification that he'd be great on our upcoming tribute to Milton Brown.
Roy Lee selected all the material for the recording. One song written by Ellen Brown was the only exception to the otherwise Milton Brown repertoire. Those selections were drawn from the huge number of songs Milton had recorded for RCA Victor and Decca, the latter being the label on which the vast majority of his recordings had been issued. As an added treat for Browniephiles, Roy Lee chose to frame the program with the opening/closing theme song, just as Milton had done on his daily radio broadcasts in the mid 1930's.
Every conversation I had with Roy Lee yielded interesting facts from the era still crystal clear in this man's memory. He valued accuracy to the maximum degree. He often spoke of the numerous inaccuracies he found in the widely-praised biography of Bob Wills ("San Antonio Rose") by Dr. Charles Townsend. Upon meeting the professor, Roy Lee confronted the author and cited poor research for "lots of mistakes" pertaining to the era through which Roy Lee had personally lived among participants written about in Townsend's book. My own narrow time frame of admittedly limited expertise (1964-1966) provided a point of corroboration regarding poor research: I found two mistakes and an inexcusable omission with the information pertaining to a single photograph! I see full justification for Roy Lee's staunch disdain for misrepresenting history in the fact that Townsend's book, in numerous printings, has not been revised and continues to misinform readers who rely on praise bestowed by others ignorant of historical facts. Admittedly, not everyone appreciated Roy Lee's candid comments. I appreciated his determination to correct errors regardless of negative reactions from some who preferred their long-held beliefs, even if based on falsehoods. To those, he was apt to respond: "I can't help it if you don't like the facts, but we're talking about history and I believe in truthful representation." This quote is mine, but I remember so well his convictions I want to say these are the words Roy Lee Brown would speak.
During the months of preparing for the release of Roy Lee's album, he often spoke of his strong desire to tell Milton's story, and the beginnings of western swing. He in fact was already working closely with the respected writer Cary Ginnell, a Californian who had made trips to Texas in pursuit of the treasured recollections, not only of Roy Lee, but of music fans from the 1930's who still lived in the Fort Worth area and were eager to share memories of those early years. Roy Lee knew the resulting book would reflect the times in an authentic manner, as it would tell the story through chronologically sequenced oral histories by the people who were present when the music was an exciting new phenomenon.
The 1980's witnessed the demise of the long playing record, or LP. I had issued four during the decade, the last of which was "Solo Guitar Artistry" by Jerry Case. Its first test pressing was unacceptable because it contained pops and other surface noises. After several failed attempts I finally received an acceptable test pressing and gave the "okay" for production. By the late 1980's, when the Roy Lee Brown project took place, the most common medium for recorded music was cassette tape. The compact disc had been introduced, but the cassettes were extremely popular, and more affordable than the new digital discs such as I would have preferred. The vertical front cover includes a photo of Roy Lee Brown smiling above the title "Western Swing Heritage". On the j-card inside the plastic case, there is an inscription following the descriptive notes which reads: "This album is dedicated to the ones who have gone before."
The finished product was issued in late 1989. News of its availability (in local record stores, or direct from its co-producers) circulated by word-of-mouth. This commonly ascribed "best advertising" brought in good local sales within the first weeks of the cassette's release. The print media in the city known as "The Cradle of Western Swing" chose to ignore Western Swing Heritage by Roy Lee Brown and his Musical Brownies. Although this dissappointed me, it came as no big surprise. I almost expected the slight even though a popular entertainment columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, prior to the album's release, had enthusiastically requested the copy we provided to him. I had already witnessed inexplicible behavior, some bordering on the bizarre, from this individual who was in a position to disperse, or withhold, music news pertaining to Fort Worth area performers. The lack of local coverage was nicely superceded by the glowing review that appeared in the March/April 1990 issue of Country Music magazine, with strong representation on the magazine racks in retail stores nationwide. Rich Kienzle, a noted music scholar and enthusiast, included Western Swing Heritage in the albums reviewed in his Buried Treasures segment of the magazine. Kienzle begins: "It's an established fact that Milton Brown and his band, The Musical Brownies, were the first real Western swing band. Their records for Decca through 1935 and 1936 were, in the eyes of many aficionados, better than Bob Wills' early recordings, since the Brownies included pioneer electric steel guitarist Bob Dunn and pianist Fred "Papa" Calhoun. This past summer Milton's brother Roy Lee, now in his seventies, recorded a Brownies tribute, Western Swing Heritage (Priority PTS-3001). This cassette-only release doesn't recreate The Brownies note-for-note, which would be impossible since most of its ex-members are dead, but even with its more modern sound, Roy Lee has revived The Brownies infectious joy and spirit". Kienzle also acknowledges the individual participants and their respective instruments and cites some of the songs included, such as "Four or Five Times", "If You Can't Get Five, Take Two", "Texas Hambone Blues", Chinatown, My Chinatown" and "My Mary".
Roy Lee Brown assembled the same group of musicians for a second volume in 1991 and issued Western Swing Heritage II on his own label, Brownie Records. Some listeners prefer this release, as it seems to build on the strong group rapport that was very evident with the first album. Within the next few years, the complete works of Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies were made available with the release of a five-disc boxed set of CDs. The Texas Rose label presented first-rate re-mastered original recordings with an accompanying booklet detailing the historical significance of the music. In 1994, the long-awaited book "Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing" by Cary Ginell (with assistance from Roy Lee Brown) was published by University of Illinois Press. It received an award from ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) in the music research category. The book remains in print and is available through the most popular retailers online.
Although his death was noted only in his hometown newspaper and music journals such as Western Swing Monthly, Roy Lee Brown's passing marked the end of an era, as he truly was the last link to the originators of western swing music.
Great News! Also, it's very unexpected news, as there were numerous nominees in the various categories. The CD (Johnny Case and his Texas Swingtet) was nominated in four categories, and has become one of five finalists in the Duo/Group category of AWA Awards. The Academy of Western Artists will present their awards ceremony and show on March 16 in Fort Worth, Texas. I hope to attend just to be part of this event. I'm grateful to have been nominated for this album of Texas Swing featuring two of my favorite veteran players, Billy Briggs and Walter Lyons.
CD NEWS ITEM:
The Johnny Case / Texas Swingtet CD has been nominated in four categories for the Academy of Western Artists 2016 Annual Awards
to be held at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas on March 16, 2017. The categories for which the CD has been
nominated are: Male Artist, Duo/Group, Album and Song (Corrine, Corrina).
JOHNNY CASE and his TEXAS SWINGTET featuring BILLY BRIGGS
1. MILK COW BLUES
2. BLUE BONNET LANE
3. C JAM BLUES
4. YOU DON'T LOVE ME BUT I'LL ALWAYS CARE
6. CORRINE, CORRINA
7. MY ADOBE HACIENDA
9. LITTLE COQUETTE
10. HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME
Personnel: BILLY BRIGGS, tenor saxophone; WALTER LYONS, guitar; JOHNNY CASE, piano;
CHRIS CLARKE, acoustic bass; GREG HARDY, drums (plus vocals on 1,4,6,7 & 10)
Recorded December, 2015 at Patrick McGuire's Studio in Arlington, Texas
Produced by Johnny Case
Executive Producer: Patrick McGuire
Recording. Mixing & Mastering by Patrick McGuire
(Descriptive notes included with CD)