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.