Archive for the Obscure Trumpet Masters Category

JAZZ LIVES!!! 10/20/16 – Trumpet Tribute (featuring Kenny Dorham)

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, Jazz in Charlotte, Obscure Trumpet Masters, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2016 by curtjazz

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz – Thursday, October 20: Trumpet Tribute – featuring Kenny Dorham

kennydorham_unamasOn this week’s edition of JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, it will be all about the trumpets.

With the birthdays of Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie all taking place this week, plus the Grammy winning jazz trumpeter Ashlin Parker, paying tribute to the underappreciated trumpet master Kenny Dorham, in The Jazz Arts Initiative’s JAZZ ROOM this Friday and Saturday, it is a perfect time for a Trumpet Tribute, from 6 pm – 9 pm, Thursday on CharlotteCommunityRadio (CLTCRadio).

He was a trumpet player of exceptional gifts; a composer of jazz classics, such as “Blue Bossa” and a better than average vocalist. Nevertheless, McKinley Howard “Kenny” Dorham (1924-1972), often gets lost among the glut of trumpet stars of the 1950’s and 60’s. He was a member of Art Blakey’s original Jazz Messengers and he replaced Clifford Brown in Max Roach’s group after Brownie’s tragic death. Dorham’s recordings as a leader are some of the most enduring of the era, including Afro Cuban, Quiet Kenny, ‘Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia and Una Mas. He also made memorable music as a sideman, especially with his frequent musical partner, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Together, they made three classic Blue Note albums over a two year period, under Henderson’s name: Page One; Our Thing and In ‘n Out.


Ashlin Parker

Charlotte native Ashlin Parker plays with large and small ensembles nationally and internationally. His solos have been described at various times as being lyrical or fiery, with throaty growls or “brilliant vibrato,” and with lightning staccato runs or “superb legato” phrasing.  When part of a front-line, Ashlin can bring energy, bite, and zest to a performance through engaging in “fine counterpoint duets” or spirited trading with other horn players.  His newest ensemble, the Trumpet Mafia, is considered “an immensely talented band.”

Ashlin shared in the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s album, Book One.  Following Book One, Ashlin has recorded with numerous artists, including Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, Dmitry Mospan, James Partridge, Terence Blanchard and Jason Marsalis. Ashlin has been teaching various aspects of jazz, including improvisation, theory, repertoire, arranging, and performance preparation in private lessons, courses, summer institutes, jazz camps, and master classes for more than ten years.  He has been leading the jazz trumpet studio in the Music Department at the University of New Orleans since January 2011.

Be sure to join me on JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, as we honor the musical legacy of Kenny Dorham and play the music of Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Hargrove and  Ashlin Parker; Thursday, October 20; from 6 pm – 9 pm (EDT); on CLTCRadio.

Don’t miss Ashlin Parker as he pays tribute to Kenny Dorham, in the Jazz Arts Initiative’s THE JAZZ ROOM. Friday, October 21, at 6 pm & 8:15 pm and Saturday, October 22, at 7 pm and 9:15 pm. For ticket information, visit

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, airs LIVE every Thursday from 6:00pm to 9:00pm via OR use the Mixlr app where you can listen and chat with our hosts and guests alike.

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Obscure Trumpet Masters #12 – Dupree Bolton

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , , , , on December 8, 2012 by curtjazz

Dupree Bolton (1929 – 1993)

Dupree Bolton

“If things had worked out right for [Dupree] he could have been one of the most important trumpet players of our time. There was a certain grandeur he was able to capture. . . He had a unique, fresh quality—something different.” – Harold Land on Dupree Bolton

There are Obscure Trumpet Masters…and then there’s Dupree Bolton. To say that a shroud of mystery has always surrounded Bolton would be an understatment. Bolton never led an actual recording session under his own name. He appeared, seemingly from nowhere in California in 1959 and set the West Coast jazz world abuzz with his performance as a sideman. He then disappeared just as quickly and reappeared a few years later, again as a sideman, displaying mind-blowing chops. He was then gone again, never to officially record again for the remainder of his life.

Who was Dupree Bolton, where did he come from and where did he go? The information will forever remain sketchy, at best. The most that we know comes from the indefatigable work of the noted jazz historian and writer, Ted Gioia, who, with a great deal of effort, managed to track down Bolton, in person, during his later years. The facts in this post come in large part, from Mr. Gioia’s moving two-part article about his encounters with Mr. Bolton, titled In Search of Dupree Bolton.  Clicking on the title will take you to Gioia’s article.

So what do we know about Dupree Bolton? He was born in Oklahoma City on March 3, 1929. His father was an accomplished musician who was reportedly one of the great Charlie Christian’s early influences. His father supplemented a meager musical income by working in the defense industry, which led the family to move to Southern California. Though his father wanted him to play the violin, young Dupree became enthralled with the trumpet in school. His father reluctantly agreed to buy him one.

Young Bolton quickly mastered the trumpet and by his early teens, he was good enough to play professionally. He lied about his age, ran away from home and joined Jay McShann’s band in 1944, just before his 15th birthday. Life on the road caused Bolton to be introduced to drugs at this young age. He was first arrested for dealing and possession on the day before his 17th birthday. He was incarcerated until he was 21. He returned home to Los Angeles upon his release, shedding and picking up the occasional gig. 

He idolized the great bop trumpeter Fats Navarro and like his idol, Bolton was by now an incredibly gifted musician with a heavy heroin habit. He was arrested again in 1951, this time for forgery and did a four-year bid in Soledad. During that time he continued to practice his horn, concentrating on the mechanics, sometimes for 12 – 14 hours a day. Bolton was released in 1956, but almost immediately went back to jail on another forgery conviction, for another three-year stint, which meant more practice time. By the time he emerged in 1959, Dupree was a full-fledged trumpet monster.

He started hitting the L.A. clubs, blowing cats off the stand at the jams. Harold Land and Elmo Hope were getting ready to make a recording featuring, Hope’s tricky charts, so they needed a trumpet player who could not only blow like mad but was an excellent reader as well. They had heard about Bolton and went down to a club in Watts to hear him in person. Land and Hope knew that their search was over. The album became known as The Fox, after Hope’s blazingly fast, intricate composition.  The then unknown Bolton enters at around 1:40 and takes the listener on a ride of amazing speed and precision. He hits all of the marks technically without dropping a single beat and with boundless creativity. The only personal experience I can compare it to is a ride on The Incredible Hulk coaster at Universal Studios.

Based on his performances on The Fox, the jazz world wanted to know about Bolton, who he was, where he had come from. But Bolton remained famously reticent in the face of his new-found fame.  When John Tynan attempted to interview Bolton for Downbeat, Dupree gave him a one sentence interview “When I was fourteen, I ran away from home.” 

Bolton would not have much time to enjoy his fame, as we was arrested again shortly after the release of The Fox and sent to San Quentin, where he remained until 1962. Upon his release, saxophonist Curtis Amy tracked Bolton down to work with him on what would become Katanga! , Amy’s most famous album. Again, Bolton steals the damn show, displaying incredible fire, especially on the title track, which he wrote. A few weeks later, Bolton joined Amy in a session band put together by arranger Onzy Matthews to back Lou Rawls. These would be Dupree Bolton’s last commercial recordings. He did a couple of television appearances with Amy after the release of Katanga! (some of which you see with this post), but a short time later, Bolton was arrested again and sent back to San Quentin, where he continued to be housed on and off, for drug and forgery related offenses, for the better part of the next two and a half decades.

Dupree Bolton was released from prison for the last time, around 1983. Though he had practiced on and off during his various incarcerations, he had become by then a forgotten figure in jazz.  He played briefly with Bobby Hutcherson during one of his releases, in 1967. Bolton also played with a prison band, while imprisoned near Tulsa in 1980, the results of which were recorded, but summarily dismissed by Bolton in his later years. In 1982, he played with Dexter Gordon in Oklahoma City, but that was all that was heard from Bolton, until Ted Gioia tracked him down in 1989.

Mr. Gioia spent some fleeting time with Bolton in 1989 after going to great lengths to track Bolton down in the San Francisco area, where Bolton had finally settled after his last release from prison. As usual, Bolton kept a low profile; he was still occasionally seen playing on the Bay Area streets; not nearly the firebrand that he once was, but showing brief flashes of excellence which let band mates and passersby know, that this was no ordinary cat.

Dupree Bolton died of cardiac arrest on June 5, 1993. He was  64 years old.  Thanks to Ted Gioia, we know more than we would have about Bolton, but we will never escape the longing for what might have been.

Recommended Recordings:

  • Fireball (Uptown Jazz) – CD in  print; mp3 available [This is a compilation of the audio tracks from a 1962 television appearance with Curtis Amy, plus two studio one offs from the same era and the two tracks recorded in prison in 1980. It’s the only recording released under Bolton’s name]
  • The Fox [Harold Land] (OJC) – CD in print; mp3 available
  • Katanga! [Curtis Amy] (Pacific Jazz) – CD OOP but available (mostly as a high priced import)

Obscure Trumpet Masters #11 – Richard Williams

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , , , on December 2, 2012 by curtjazz

Richard Williams (1931 – 1985)

Richard Williams

“Richard Williams was a strong soloist with a big sound and a wide range, so it seems odd that his career did not go much further…He seemed poised for stardom when he recorded his one album as a leader… but there were no encores.” – Scott Yanow in Trumpet Kings

When I completed the first ten in the Obscure Trumpet Masters series last year, I always intended to return to it to make a few additions when necessary. Though it took me a bit longer than intended, I’m back with the first of a few more great jazz trumpeters who somehow escaped public acclaim.

Though he had a common sounding name, Richard Gene Williams’ trumpet sound was anything but common. Williams was born in Galveston, TX. He started on the tenor sax in high school before turning to the trumpet.  He earned a degree in music from Wiley College, an HBCU in Marshall, TX.  After graduating from Wiley, Williams served in the US Air Force from 1952 – 1956. Upon his discharge he joined Lionel Hampton’s Big Band for a European Tour. Once the tour ended, Williams earned his Master’s Degree at the Manhattan School of Music and then hit the bricks to try his luck on the tough NYC Jazz Scene.

He met with some success in New York. Williams was hired in 1959 by Charles Mingus for the band that the bass legend was forming for the Newport Festival that year.  He appeared on some of Mingus’ greatest recordings, including Mingus Ah Um;  Mingus Dynasty and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Williams would continue to work sporadically with Mingus over the years.  Another very fruitful relationship began in 1960, when Williams was hired by Gigi Gryce. You’ll hear Richard on Gryce’s classics, Rat Race Blues and The Hap’nin’s, where Williams solos unforgettably, on one of Gryce’s best known compositions, “Minority”.

It was also 1960 when Richard Williams recorded his first and only album as a leader New Horn in Town, for Candid Records, with support from the fine altoist, Leo Wright, his Gryce band mate Richard Wyands on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Bobby Thomas on drums.  It was (and still is) a terrific album, with strong solos and great writing from Williams and first-rate support from Wright, Wyands and the others. In spite of the quality of the playing and the “thumbs up” from the critics, New Horn in Town went nowhere and Williams never helmed another date.

This does not mean that Williams lacked for work. Because he was musically educated and technically proficient, he remained quite busy over the years, landing in the trumpet sections of the bands of Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, among others. He also did some work in the classical field and in Broadway show pits, most notably for The Wiz. During his later years, Richard Williams led his own group on a European Tour and joined the Mingus tribute group Mingus Dynasty.

Richard Gene Williams succumbed to Renal Cancer in 1985, at just 54 years old. Though he inexplicably never led another session after New Horn in Town, we can can still enjoy his stellar work on that record and his impressive works as a sideman.

Recommended Recordings:

Obscure Trumpet Masters #10 – Tommy Turrentine

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2011 by curtjazz

Tommy Turrentine (1928 –1997)

As a trumpet soloist Turrentine had all the qualities necessary for greatness. He had a full, warm tone throughout the range of the instrument and possessed the ability to create solos using long unbroken lines. His flair for melodic improvisation using long climaxes often contrasted sharply with the more disjointed creations of younger men who seemed anxious to brush aside convention. – Alun Morgan

He was the older brother of one of the most famous jazz musicians of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. His kid brother recorded dozens of albums, including a few that are fondly remembered as classics. He was every bit the musician that baby brother was. Yet Stanley Turrentine is a bona fide jazz legend, while Tommy Turrentine, who recorded only one album as a leader in his entire career, is unknown to all but ardent jazz fans and the many musicians who still marvel at his gifts, both as a trumpet player and as a composer.

Thomas Walter Turrentine, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, six years before Stanley.  He joined Benny Carter’s Big Band at eighteen. In his early twenties, he played with Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie and briefly with Count Basie.  He and Stanley then joined Earl Bostic in 1952 for a three-year bid. 

In 1959, the Turrentine brothers received their first major exposure when they joined Max Roach’s quintet. There, Tom and Stan took part in some enduring works, including Quiet as it’s Kept; Abbey Lincoln’s Abbey is Blue  and the drum battle Rich vs. Roach.  In 1960, while with Roach, he also recorded his first (and last) album, the eponymous Tommy Turrentine.  He was backed by his Roach bandmates plus pianist Horace Parlan.  Tommy Turrentine’s compositions took center stage, as he wrote five of the seven tracks on this solid and swinging date, which went unnoticed for the most part.

(Tommy Turrentine plays “Time’s Up”,  from Tommy Turrentine)

Ironically, Tommy Turrentine drew more attention for his work as a sideman, subsequent to his own album.  Stanley signed with Blue Note in 1961.  Tommy came along as a sideman on Stan’s first Blue Note album Comin’ Your Way.  Tommy also wrote the track “Thomasville” for that record; one of his most enduring compositions.  Tommy was not done yet for Blue Note; that year as he also played on and/or contributed tunes to  Parlan’s On the Spur of the Moment and Up & Down;  Jackie McLean’s A Fickle Sonance and Sonny Clark’s classic Leapin’ and Lopin’ .  In 1962-63, he added Stanley’s Jubilee Shout!!!, That’s Where it’s At and Never Let Me Go; Big John Patton’s Blue John and Lou Donaldson’s The Natural Soul to his performing and writing credits. 

(“Sow Belly Blues” from Lou Donaldson’s The Natural Soul. Tommy Turrentine – trumpet)

Though he was the technical equal of Blue Note’s rising trumpet stars Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, he wasn’t as personally brash as those two. Perhaps that intangible was the missing element that kept Tommy Turrentine from greater prominence. He was also said to suffer from some health problems that curtailed his work. Whatever the reason, Tommy Turrentine pretty much faded into obscurity by the mid ‘60’s; around the same time that Stanley was rising towards the pinnacle. 

(From Sonny Clark’s Leapin’ and Lopin’ – “Midnight Mambo” – Tommy Turrentine; composer and trumpet)

He would appear on a few albums (including interestingly enough, one with Sun Ra in 1988) and at a few club dates here and there, but by the ‘70’s, Tommy Turrentine, the musician, was in semi-retirement, with his wife, in his New York City brownstone.  Tommy Turrentine, the composer, the teacher and the mentor, never stopped working however, until his passing in 1997.  Like Idrees Sulieman (Obscure Trumpet Master #9) he wrote many compositions that went unperformed and were published by Don Sickler’s Second Floor music.  The four that are included in Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes series, are all memorable. 

(From Unsung Heroes; Vol.2 – Brian Lynch Sextet debuting Tommy Turrentine’s “It Could Be”)

His knowledge of jazz and the people who played it is one of the reasons why, though the public’s favorite Turrentine was Stanley, many musicians still remember Tommy with great respect and fondness.

(Tommy Turrentine from the NYPL’s Jazz Oral History Series (1993))

Recommended Recordings:

This is the final post in the Obscure Trumpet Masters Series. I’m humbled to know that so many jazz fans and musicians have taken the time to read all or part of this labor of love.  Special thanks to Brian Lynch, Dave Douglas and Jason Parker (three modern-day trumpet masters who deserve to be heard more often) for their words and tweets of encouragement.

I also appreciate the suggestions from everyone, for other fine artists who should be on this list. Since this was never intended to be an exhaustive study, I knew that there would be many great, underappreciated players who would not be mentioned. But I say to fans of trumpet masters such as Dupree Bolton, Richard Williams, Guido Basso, Tomasz Stanko, Howard McGhee and many others; y’all have given me some food for thought and additional study. Hmmm…perhaps there will be a second series.

Thanks again to all of you!

Obscure Trumpet Masters #9 – Idrees Sulieman

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , , , on March 21, 2011 by curtjazz

Idrees Sulieman (1923 – 2002)

The thing to realize about Idrees is that he went back to the very beginnings of bebop, took part in some of the most interesting hard bop of the ’50s with Coltrane and others, played lead for Tadd Dameron alongside Clifford Brown; he…was still stretching and sounding as modern as anyone in the ’70s, ’80s, and even in the ’90s. – Brian Lynch

“Bell-clear tone, swings hard, creative soloist – Find more of his stuff!!”

Those are the words I scribbled on a scrap of paper about Idrees Sulieman when I first heard him 25 years ago, on an album called The CatsI found that paper about a year ago, inside that LP’s sleeve.  It caused me to go back and start revisiting Mr. Sulieman’s work… I’m still impressed.

Born Leonard Graham in St. Petersburg, FL, in 1923; he changed his name to Idrees Sulieman when he converted to Islam. Sulieman originally wanted to be a sax player, but switched to the trumpet because his father could not afford a saxophone.  (During the ‘60’s, Sulieman again picked up the alto sax and became fairly proficient) Sulieman studied at the Boston Conservatory and gained early experience with the Carolina Cotton Pickers.  He left to join the Earl Hines Big Band in 1943. Bird and Diz were both in the Hines Band then and it had a profound effect on Sulieman. Diz’s play inspired Sulieman to perfect his own style.

During the mid ‘40’s, in addition to Hines, Sulieman logged time with Mary Lou Williams, Cab Calloway and Thelonious Monk. In fact, Sulieman’s played on Monk’s first sides, in 1947. By the mid’50’s, he had found his niche as a top flight bebop sideman. He appeared on Max Roach’s first studio album in 1953 and alongside Gigi Gryce on Mal-1, Mal Waldron’s first disc.

This is “Humph” from Monk’s Genius of Modern Music – Volume 1, which includes some of those ’47 sessions:

Other notable turns as a sideman or co-leader include The Hawk Flies High a Coleman Hawkins session, with Hank Jones, J.J. Johnson, Oscar Pettiford and Papa Jo Jones (Check out “Juicy Fruit” – Sulieman holds a single note for 57 seconds, thanks to circular breathing techniques.);  Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors, along with John Coltrane, Donald Byrd and Bobby Jaspar; Coolin’ with vibraphonist Teddy Charles and Waldron; Three Trumpets with Byrd and Art Farmer and the aforementioned The Cats with Coltrane, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Louis Hayes and Doug Watkins.  Their version of Flanagan’s “Minor Mishap”(below)  is on my list of all-time favorite jazz performances.

The early ‘60’s saw Sulieman moving to Stockholm, where he played with Eric Dolphy, Bud Powell and Don Byas. He cut his first disc as a leader, The Camel, for Swedish Columbia, in 1964. He also returned to big band work, with a decade’s worth of fine recordings with the Clarke-Boland Big Band and the Danish Radio Orchestra, after moving to Copenhagen.

Although Sulieman was on the scene for parts of six decades, his discography as a leader is surprisingly thin.  His three albums for Steeplechase are all available. The best of these is Now Is The Time, from 1976, with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Higgins. Though it was almost 20 years after The Cats, Sulieman was as strong and swinging as ever.

Though he performed sparingly during his later years, Sulieman remained a prolific composer.  His estate includes a horde of compositions that were never recorded.  Trumpeter Don Sickler’s publishing company, Second Floor Music, published the tunes but much of it is still unperformed. Brian Lynch has begun to rectify that, by recording four Sulieman works on his recent Unsung Heroes project.

Sulieman died of bladder cancer in his native St. Petersburg on July 23, 2002. He left an impressive and eclectic body of work that should be heard; though it takes a bit of cross referencing to find.

Trust me, he’s worth it.

Recommended Recordings:

Obscure Trumpet Masters #8 – Louis Smith

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters, The Jazz Continues... with tags on March 15, 2011 by curtjazz

Louis Smith

It will not take you long to discern…what it was that [Blue Note Records founder] Alfred Lion found in Louis Smith to give him the same faith he had in Brownie, in Horace Silver and Lee Morgan and all the many others whose careers he has helped. – Leonard Feather


Every one of the cats who has been a part of this series has had an almost Sisyphean encounter with fame. Louis Smith is no exception.

Born in Memphis in 1931, Louis Smith began playing the trumpet as a teenager. He graduated high school with a scholarship to Tennessee State University, where he majored in music. After graduating from Tennessee, Smith continued his studies at the University of Michigan, which afforded him the opportunity to play with Miles, Diz and others as they passed through Ann Arbor.  After a stint in the Army, Smith began teaching high school in Atlanta by day and jamming in the clubs at night, again impressing visiting jazz stars with his Fats Navarro/Clifford Brown influenced style.

The next year, he recorded his debut as a leader, assembling an impressive group, including Duke Jordan, Tommy Flanagan, Art Taylor, Doug Watkins and on alto saxophone, “Buckshot La Funke”, who was more commonly known as Cannonball Adderley. The record label, Tom Wilson’s Transition Records, went out of business before the album could be released. However Alfred Lion, knowing a good thing when he heard it, bought the masters and signed Smith to an exclusive contract. The album was released as Here Comes Louis Smith.

In 1958, Smith appeared again with Burrell on the now classic Blue Lights sessions and on another Blue Note date under his own name, Smithville; with Charlie Rouse, Sonny Clark, Paul Chambers and Taylor. He also briefly joined Horace Silver’s group. There was thought to be no recorded evidence of his time with Silver, until the discovery and release in 2008 of the amazing Live at Newport ’58 album.

At 27, Louis Smith seemed destined for jazz stardom. However, seeking security and stability, Smith abruptly retired from the music business, moved back to Ann Arbor, and taught at the U. of Michigan and in the public school system for the next 20 years.

In 1978 Smith returned to the scene with two albums over the next two years, on Steeplechase: Just Friends and Prancin’Smith was in fine form on these albums, proving that the twenty year absence had not affected his chops – which may have been why he took another eleven year sabbatical before his next recording, Ballads for Lulu, in 1990.  Smith then retired from teaching and got down to some serious recording, making nine more discs, all on Steeplechase, between 1994 and 2004. 

Unfortunately, we are not likely to hear anymore from this should be legend; Louis Smith suffered a stroke in 2005, resulting in aphasia, which has robbed him of the ability to play the trumpet and makes verbal communication very difficult. He is said to be improving, thanks to intensive therapy, including music therapy.  We wish Louis Smith well in his recovery.

On Volume 2 of Unsung Heroes, Brian Lynch dedicates his composition “’Nother Never” to Louis Smith. Once you hear Mr. Smith play, you’ll understand why.

From Unsung Heroes – Vol. 1, here’s the Brian Lynch Sextet playing Louis Smith’s “Wetu”


Recommended Recordings:

Obscure Trumpet Masters #7 – Bobby Shew

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , , , , on March 5, 2011 by curtjazz

Bobby Shew

Don’t be afraid TO TRY!! Better to explore and discover than to keep your head and mind buried in the sand of tradition (and misinformation). – Bobby Shew

The first time I ever heard a CD, Bobby Shew was playing.

I was working at Macy’s in the early 80’s, selling rugs. We were located right next to electronics. The audio guys loved to demonstrate this new “digital technology”. What better way to do it than with Bobby Shew and Chuck Findley’s then new release, Trumpets No End. The stunningly clear sound and the musician’s technical mastery made me a fan of Shew (and CDs) for life.

Bobby Shew is a musician’s musician. Cats on the scene speak highly of him; his name is listed in the trumpet section of countless recordings; he’s still a first call sideman, he is a universally respected clinician and he has also recorded some very impressive work as a leader. But outside of musicians and true jazz cognoscenti, he is unknown.

Born Robert Joratz in Albuquerque, NM in 1941, Bobby Shew began playing the guitar at the age of eight and switched to the trumpet at ten. Paradoxically, for such a renowned educator, Shew is for the most part, self-taught. By the time he was thirteen he was playing at local dances with a number of bands and by fifteen he had put together his own group to play at dances, occasional concerts and in jazz coffee houses. Shew’s professional career began when he was in high school; playing as many as six nights a week in a dinner club.

(In the clip below, Bobby Shew trades licks with himself, using a creation he calls the “Shewhorn”)

A few years later, Shew joined the Tommy Dorsey ghost band, which led to him being asked to play with Woody Herman in 1965.  When Buddy Rich formed his big band the next year, Shew got a call. Many other similar situations followed and Bobby played lead trumpet for a number of pop stars. This brought him to Las Vegas where he became prominent in various hotels and casinos. By this time Bobby was widely known for his strong lead playing rather than as a jazz soloist. So late in 1972 he decided to make a move to the Los Angeles area in order to get re-involved in developing as a jazz player.

Once in LA, Bobby quickly found what he was looking for.  In the years to come he spent time with the groups of Art Pepper, Bud Shank, and Horace Silver, plus numerous big bands such as Louis Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin, Oliver Nelson, Terry Gibbs, Benny Goodman and Maynard Ferguson.

Telepathy, Bobby’s 1978 debut as a leader (at the tender age of 37), happened by accident; a quintet album was to be recorded that day and had to be cancelled, due to scheduling conflicts. Shew and pianist Bill Mays suddenly found themselves alone in the studio with the booked time available.  Without a lot of discussion, they chose six standards and created two on the spot improvisations.  The result was a fine duet album. Telepathy has never been released on CD, but if you stumble across a copy of the LP, it is worth picking up.

Having just turned 70 on March 4, Bobby Shew ( is still very active, mostly on the West Coast jazz scene. If you get a chance to hear him live, check him out; or pick up one of the excellent discs below. You’ll be glad you did.
Recommended Recordings:

Obscure Trumpet Masters #6 – Dizzy Reece

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , on February 24, 2011 by curtjazz

Dizzy Reece

There’s a great trumpeter over in England, a guy who’s got soul and originality and above all, who’s not afraid to blow with fire”. – Miles Davis  (about Dizzy Reece)

You can’t have a conversation about the great trumpet players in jazz without the name “Dizzy” coming into the discussion.  Naturally, when that name is used, almost everyone will assume that you’re referring to the great John Birks Gillespie.

Let me introduce you to another “Dizzy”; Alphonso Son Reece.  The son of a silent films pianist, “Dizzy” Reece was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1931.  Contrary to what you’d expect, he did not get his nickname because of any similarity between himself and Birks, but because as a young man, he liked to wander the dangerous streets of Kingston late at night, getting into precarious situations.

In an attempt to keep him out of trouble, young Alphonso was sent to Alpha Boys School, a learning institution in Kingston, run by Catholic Nuns.  Established as a school for wayward boys, Alpha developed a reputation also turning out some fine musical talent.  Reece’s first instrument was the baritone horn; and at age 14, he switched to the trumpet.

In 1947 Reece moved to London, seeking more musical opportunities; he found them. He worked regularly in London, Paris, Germany and Holland. He became known as much for his blistering trumpet solos as for his at times, difficult personality.  But this is jazz, not charm school. So while Dizzy’s temperament may have ticked off a few writers and band members along the way, it did not stop him from getting the attention of visiting American jazz stars, such as Sonny Rollins, Thad Jones, Kenny Clarke and Miles Davis.

Blue Note records founder, Alfred Lion, heard about Reece and reached out to British jazz producer Tony Hall, asking Hall to produce Dizzy’s first American sides – for Blue Note – in 1958. The resulting album, Blues in Trinity, was an auspicious debut.   The sidemen were British jazz stars Tubby Hayes on tenor and Terry Shannon on piano, Canadian bassist Lloyd Thompson and visiting Americans Art Taylor on drums and Donald Byrd as a second trumpet.  The music is high quality hard bop, typical for the period.

From Blues in Trinity, Dizzy Reece plays “I Had the Craziest Dream”

Lion was impressed enough with Blues in Trinity, to ask Reece to come to New York, which he did.  Two more Blue Note albums soon followed: Star Bright, with Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers; and Soundin’ Off with Walter Bishop and Doug Watkins.  A final set of tunes were recorded for Blue Note in 1960, with Stanley Turrentine (in his Blue Note debut), Bobby Timmons, Duke Jordan, Sam Jones and Art Blakey. Those sides inexplicably remained in the vaults until they were released in 1999 as Comin’ On.

Yet, in spite of the hype and the fine recordings, Dizzy Reece did not become a star.  Perhaps it’s because the musical and social environment of New York in the early ‘60’s was extremely competitive and volatile.  Nevertheless, he remained in NYC, where he lives to this day.

His four Blue Note albums were available as part of a now out of print Mosaic Select set. His one recording for Prestige, 1962’s Asia Minor, an excellent date with Cecil Payne, Hank Jones and Ron Carter, is also now OOP but not hard to find.  After Asia Minor, Dizzy Reece would not lead another session until 1970 and he has only recorded three more since then.

His appearances as a sideman are also rare. The most notable ones are on Duke Jordan’s Flight to Jordan; and two albums from 1969: Hank Mobley’s penultimate session, The Flip and on Andrew Hill’s Passing Ships.  His most recent release, Nirvana in 2006, is as its title suggests, a rather mystical affair, steeped in Eastern musical styles.

For whatever reason it happened, Dizzy Reece’s musical obscurity is undeserved.  Check his music out. Then, the next time someone asks if you dig Dizzy, you may say “which one”.

Recommended Recordings:

  • Blues in Trinity (Blue Note)CD (CD-R) in print; mp3 available 
  • Star Bright (Blue Note) – CD OOP; mp3 available
  • Asia Minor (New Jazz/OJC) – CD – OOP, but fairly available; mp3 available
  • Comin’ On (Blue Note) – CD (CD-R) in print

Obscure Trumpet Masters #5 – Benny Bailey

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags on February 12, 2011 by curtjazz

 Benny Bailey (1925 – 2005)

“His sound is very personal and he completely avoids clichés. Above all, he is thrillingly himself. He is totally uninhibited and will get all kinds of sounds out of his horn to get his message across. He combines fantastic breath control, remarkable range and a flawless technique…” – Quincy Jones on Benny Bailey

I’m breaking the alpha order rule that I set when I started, but what the hell. Benny Bailey deserved to be on this list.

Born in Cleveland in 1925, Benny Bailey started out a pianist and flutist before switching permanently to the trumpet.  Early in his career he gigged with Scatman Crothers (Chico and the Man, The Shining and a bunch of other stuff) before landing a gig in 1947 with Dizzy Gillespie’s legendary bop based big band.  Bailey stayed with Diz for a couple of years before moving on to Lionel Hampton.

In the Hampton band, he met another young trumpet player/composer/arranger named Quincy Jones. “Q” so dug young Bailey’s chops that he was moved to write a bouncy show piece for him. The title was “Meet Benny Bailey”.  It became a staple in Q’s band book (and the books of many others) long after his time with Hampton. Years later Jon Hendricks put lyrics to the tune; the Manhattan Transfer recorded it on their legendary Vocalese album and “Meet Benny Bailey” became a minor classic. Ironically, people know more about the tune than they do about the man in the title (Truth – I’ve met folks who didn’t know that “Benny Bailey” was a real person).

When the Hampton band was passing through Sweden on tour in 1953, Bailey abruptly quit the band and decided to remain in Stockholm. He immediately found work there and spent the next few years shuttling back and forth between Europe and the U.S., before settling in Europe permanently in 1961.

Bailey worked steadily through the years, recording mostly with European groups including notably, the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band. He was well-known in Europe, but hardly registered on the American jazz scene, with two notable exceptions.

The first was an album he recorded for Candid in 1960, on a trip to the U.S. after finishing a tour with Quincy. It was called Big Brass. Aided by a septet that included Phil Woods, Julius Watkins, Tommy Flanagan and Art Taylor; playing charts by Jones and Oliver Nelson among others, this group laid down some tracks that epitomized cool bop-swing.  Though he would record for another 40+ years, Big Brass is arguably the best date that Bailey recorded under his own name.

The other exception was one of those jazz festival “accidents” that took place in July 1969, at Montreux. Pianist Les McCann was there to perform with his trio and a couple of horn players sat in with them: saxophonist Eddie Harris, who was a regular McCann partner and Benny Bailey, who had never played with McCann before.  Said Bailey: “I didn’t know any of the tunes, and there was no rehearsal: they had to call out the changes for me.” The results, as we now know, were electrifying; as Bailey’s soaring, stabbing and growling solos are indelible parts of that set, the live album that resulted from it: Swiss Movement and of course, two anthems of the soul-jazz canon “Compared to What” and “Cold Duck Time”.

Years later, Bailey admitted that he did not much care for the funky, R&B laced music that they played that night but like it or not, he is known more for that slice of “shotgun wedding” jazz, than he is for anything else he did before or after it.

Bailey kept up his active performing and recording schedule into the 21st Century, putting together a nice Louis Armstrong tribute disc (The Satchmo Legacy) in 2000.

The circumstances surrounding Bailey’s April 2005 death are bizarre, confusing and undeservedly sad.  He died, apparently alone, in his Amsterdam apartment.  He was found on April 14th. He had been dead for as many as ten days. Neighbors knew nothing about him and musician friends had assumed that he was somewhere on tour.  His body lay in a local morgue for another two weeks before a death announcement was placed in a local paper. A Dutch drummer who had remembered Bailey once mentioning a sister in Cleveland, contacted a Cleveland based jazz journalist, who then was able to contact Bailey’s family in the U.S., who saw to it that Bailey received a proper funeral; almost a month after his death.

Would Benny Bailey have received greater acclaim if he had remained in the States? Who knows. What we do know is that he was a master of his instrument who left us some brilliant music to remember him by. Every serious jazz fan should take the opportunity to “Meet Benny Bailey”

Recommended Recordings:

  • Big Brass (Candid) – CD in print; mp3 also available 
  • Grand Slam (Storyville) – w/ Charlie Rouse, Richard Wyands, Sam Jones CD OOP, but available; mp3 also available 
  • I Thought About You (Laika) – CD in print (on demand); mp3 also available
  • The Satchmo Legacy (Enja) – CD in print, mp3 also available;

Obscure Trumpet Masters #4 – Carmell Jones

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags on February 8, 2011 by curtjazz

Carmell Jones (1936 – 1996)

“The New York scene was stifling me and I was becoming disenchanted with things in the States.” Carmell Jones

He plays on one of the most famous straight-ahead jazz songs ever recorded, yet today people are more likely to confuse him with a film character played by Dorothy Dandridge, than they are to know the titles of any of his six albums. 

Carmell Jones was a native of Kansas City, KS, who possessed a powerful attack and a clear buoyant tone. This made finding work as a sideman and as a studio musician, after he moved to California in 1960, relatively easy. 

During the early ‘60’s Jones, played or recorded with Bud Shank, Gerald Wilson, Nelson Riddle and many others. He recorded his first album, The Remarkable Carmell Jones, for Pacific Records in 1961, with Harold Land joining him on the front line.  It was an auspicious debut, with Jones, Land and the band swinging hard through a few hard-bop tunes and a couple of standards. Gerald Wilson wrote arrangements for his next two albums: Business Meetin’ and Brass Bag, also for Pacific.

(Carmell Jones plays “Yvette”)

In the spring of ’64, Jones moved east to join Horace Silver’s group. During his brief tenure with the pianist, he played on several cuts on the celebrated Song for My Father album, including the title track.  He also recorded  his best known album, Jay Hawk Talk, for Prestige and played on some well-received discs with Land, Booker Ervin and Charles McPherson. Not surprisingly, Jones was voted Downbeat’s “New Star Trumpeter”.

(From Jay Hawk Talk, Carmell Jones – “Willow Weep for Me”)

Yet, at the height of this apparent success, Jones quit Silver’s band in the summer of ’65 and moved to Germany, where he remained for the next 15 years.

Though this move may have been best personally for the easygoing Jones, it probably hurt him professionally, as he was effectively removed from the U.S. jazz scene until he returned, in virtual anonymity, in 1980. 

He recorded a very good album Carmell Jones Returns, in 1982, but it went virtually unnoticed. He taught music in elementary school and worked on the local Kansas City jazz scene for the remainder of his life, before passing away in 1996, at the age of 60.

I discovered Jones’ music through picking up a used LP copy of Jay Hawk Talk in Greenwich Village record store a few years back. I’ve heard most of his limited discography since then. I find something new to like each time I hear him.  I think you will too.

Recommended Recordings: