Archive for curtis amy

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)

Unsung Saxophone Masters# 1 – Curtis Amy

Posted in Unsung Saxophone Masters with tags , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by curtjazz

Curtis Amy (1927 – 2002)

Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve probably heard Curtis Amy. If you listened to pop music and pop radio from the mid-’60’s through the late ’70’s, then you heard Amy’s tenor, soprano or flute backing artists from Carole King, to Ray Charles to the Doors. But as a solo artist, Curtis Amy toiled in virtual obscurity.

Born in Houston, TX, in 1927, Amy’s first instrument was the clarinet at the young age of four.  He was drafted and during his stint in the Army, he started to play the tenor sax. When his time in the Army was up, Amy decided to pursue formal musical training at Kentucky State College (now University), from which he graduated in the early ’50’s.  He then taught school in Tennessee and knocked around playing gigs throughout the midwest for a couple of years, before landing in Los Angeles around 1955.  Once in L.A., he recorded a session with Dizzy Gillespie and continued to pay his dues on the club scene.

Curtis Amy – “24 Hours Blues” from Way Down

While playing at a club called “Dynamite Jackson’s”, in the Crenshaw District, Curtis Amy caught the ear of Dick Bock, the now legendary head of Pacific Jazz Records.  Bock dug the bluesy sound of Amy’s tenor and signed him to the label.  Amy’s first date for Pacific Jazz was The Blues Message, which he co-led with organist Paul Bryant, another L.A. club regular.  The sound on that session is what you would expect – greasy organ and gritty tenor, augmented by Roy Brewster’s valve trombone. The music would have easily fit into any smoky joint in Crenshaw, Watts or even Harlem. Though Bock had brought Amy, Brewster, Bryant and the others in the quintet together for the recording, the cats apparently dug their sound and decided to remain together as a group for a while, taking up residence as the house band at “Dynamite Jackson’s” and cutting one more album, Meetin’ Here, in 1961.

Curtis Amy and Paul Bryant on the title track from ‘Meetin’ Here’

Between 1960 and 1963, Bock and Pacific Records kept Mr. Amy busy as he recorded a total of six albums as a leader or co-leader. All but one included Brewster as a sideman.  They are also notable for containing some of the early efforts of two vibraphonists who are now anything but obscure, Bobby Hutcherson (on Groovin’ Blue) and Roy Ayers (on Way Down and Tippin’ on Through). The unquestionable standout of Amy’s Pacific Jazz Recordings (and of his overall catalog) is his final album for the label, 1963’s Katanga!.  It was originally credited to the co-leadership of Amy and Dupree Bolton, a trumpet player who was as gifted as he was enigmatic.  On Katanga!, the overt blues base of most of Amy’s earlier works has been replaced by a sound that is closer to hard bop. Amy, Bolton, pianist Jack Wilson, guitarist Ray Crawford, bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Doug Sides, burst forth with a power that is still as arresting today as it was almost half a century ago.  Nevertheless, Katanga! was lost in the surfeit of jazz releases at that time.  It all but vanished from the scene, along with the musicians who led the session.

Curtis Amy, Dupree Bolton and Ray Crawford lead a live version of “Katanga” on the old Frankly Jazz television program

Curtis Amy would lead just three more sessions after 1963; a totally forgettable pop album Sounds of Hollywood in 1965, a date that Amy later dismissed as “syrup”;  Mustang;  a Joel Dorn produced album for Verve, which drew some attention from acid jazzers in the ’90’s, due to the funky title track and Peace For Love a very good album that marked Amy’s return to straight-ahead jazz, as well as his recorded swan song.  Though Peace For Love was recorded in 1994, it was not released in the U.S. until 2004, two years after Amy’s death.

In the years between the mid-60’s and the start of this century, Amy, though invisible to the jazz scene, was anything but idle.  He married Merry Clayton, a fine and extremely underrated vocalist in her own right (she is the female singer who gives Mick Jagger a run for his money on “Gimme Shelter”). Together and separately, they worked constantly in Hollywood.  When Merry joined Ray Charles’ Raelettes, Curtis signed on for a three-year stint as Brother Ray’s musical director.  When The Doors went for an orchestral sound on 1969’s The Soft Parade, they called on Amy as one of the saxes. It’s Mr. Amy that you hear soloing on the hit “Touch Me”.  Mr. and Mrs. Amy are also heard all over Carole King’s immortal album Tapestry, Merry as a background vocalist and Curtis on reeds – that’s his soprano sax on the break on “It’s Too Late” and his flute that rides out “So Far Away”.

From The Smothers Brothers show, here’s “Touch Me” by The Doors, with Curtis Amy on tenor

Curtis Amy died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. Though he was reluctant to be called a “Texas Tenor” or a “West Coast Jazz” player, he left a fine body of work that is worth exploring by fans of any niche or genre of Black American Music. I recommend that you start with Katanga! and work your way in. You’ll find much to like.

Recommended Recordings

  • Katanga! – (EMI Japan) – CD available as import
  • Groovin’ Blue – (EMI Japan) – CD available as import
  • Peace for Love (Fresh Sounds Spain) – CD available as import – hard to find
  • Mosaic Select 7 – Curtis Amy (Mosaic Records)  [a 3-CD compilation of all of Amy’s work for Pacific Jazz, including Katanga!] – OOP but it can be found, at a price, from Amazon and eBay