Archive for Max Roach

Who’s Hazel Scott? (Unsung Women of Jazz #11)

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2019 by curtjazz

I must admit, it did my jazzy little heart good to hear Alicia Keys give a shout out to Hazel Scott during her impressive dual piano stint on the 61st Grammy Awards. As soon as she sat down between the two keyboards, I thought of Ms. Scott and her scene in the 1943 film The Heat’s On which clearly was Ms. Keys’ inspiration.

“The Heat’s On” [Dual piano comes in the last 1:30]

I’ve been an admirer of Ms. Scott’s for many years. Both for her piano prowess (though she usually only played one at a time) and for her willingness to take a stand for herself, as a black woman, even though it cost her considerably in her career, at a time when women would generally not do such a thing.

I first became aware of Hazel Scott, when as a teenager, I was causally watching the TV soap opera “One Life to Live”, with my mother, who was a huge fan. There was a wedding scene on the show between the two major black characters, Ed (played by the magnificent Al Freeman, Jr.) and Carla (Ellen Holly). Black love was very rare on television in that day, so it caught my eye. When this regal looking woman sat at the piano to play and sing, my mom says to our neighbor, who had stopped by to watch, “That’s Hazel Scott, ain’t it?” The neighbor watched closely for a few seconds and said “Yeah, that sure is. I haven’t seen her in a long time!”. I was struck by their excitement over this woman, so I asked. “Who’s Hazel Scott?”. My mom’s brief explanation (I was interrupting her “stories” – a cardinal sin), was that Hazel Scott was a singer, who used to be married to Adam Clayton Powell. I decided not to push it, lest I be banished.

“I Dood It”, with Red Skelton

I filed the info away, until I got to college a few years later and a real interest in jazz had taken hold. Here again, was the name Hazel Scott, accompanied by a striking album cover photo. The album was called Relaxed Piano Moods. She was leading a session, with Charles Mingus on bass and Max Roach on drums. By then, I knew Mingus and Roach pretty well. I figured if they were on this date, she must have something to say… Yes, she did. She was classically trained with a jazz style influenced by James P. Johnson’s stride and Ellington’s swing. The bop based backing of Mingus and Roach was a little new to her but she held her own. Relaxed Piano Moods is a good album.

So, who is Hazel Scott? She was born in Trinidad, in 1920. Her family moved to Harlem, when she was four. She was a piano prodigy, who was accepted to Julliard at age eight. By age fifteen she was opening for Count Basie and hosting her own radio show. By age eighteen, her classical and jazz hybrid piano style was packing them in at New York’s first integrated nightclub, Cafe Society.

By WWII, her talent, vivacious personality and beauty, had caught the attention of Hollywood. She was invited out West for screen tests and lit up the screen. But Ms. Hazel Scott knew her worth and her power. She was a civil rights activist from the beginning and the pianist/actress, by now in her early twenties, flatly refused any film role that she felt would cast her in a degrading light. She would not play a maid. She had riders in her film contracts, which gave her final approval, over her screen appearances and costumes. On the music circuit, her swinging classics, had made Hazel a national sensation, pulling in what would be in 2019, over $1,100,000 a year, for her club work alone.

In Hollywood, she was also quite popular. Her roles were never large, she usually was singing and playing piano but she was always gorgeous, dignified and elegant – a nascent feminist and an early model of black pride. In addition to The Heat’s On, with Mae West, she appeared in I Dood It, directed by Vicente Minelli; with Red Skelton; Rhapsody in Blue, with Robert Alda and Something to Shout About, with Don Ameche, among other films. Her Hollywood career came to an abrupt end, after a falling out with the all-powerful Columbia Pictures president, Harry Cohn, over a costume that she felt was stereotypical and demeaning. Cohn wanted black women, seeing their husbands off to war, to be dressed in dirty clothes with messy hair, while their white counterparts were dressed to the nines. Scott stood her ground, on behalf of herself and the rest of the black “war brides”. The production was shut down for three days. Ms. Scott won the battle, but Cohn vowed that she would not work again in Hollywood for the rest of his life. A vow that he kept.

With Charles Mingus on bass

She was also a staunch anti-segregationist. At a time when black entertainers were expected to perform in clubs that would not welcome them as patrons, or if so, they were shunted off into separate parts of the venue, Hazel Scott would have no part of it. She would not perform in any club that did not have integrated seating. She told Time Magazine “Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?” She was literally escorted out of the city of Austin, TX, by Texas Rangers, for refusing to play in front of a segregated audience. She and her traveling companion, were refused service at a restaurant in Pasco, WA, in 1949, because of the color of their skin. Scott successfully sued the restaurant, which caused challenges to discrimination laws throughout the state and changes to Washington State laws within a few years.

The year was 1950. The new medium of television was in its infancy. A lot of work in the early days was being done in New York. By now, Scott was married, to the legendary flamboyant minister and congressman, from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. She was also mother to a young son, Adam III. Staying close to home was a better option. The fledgling DuMont network offered Hazel her own show. When in premiered, in July 1950, The Hazel Scott Show, became the first network TV show, to be hosted by a black woman. Her show aired Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 7:45 pm – 8 pm (they had 15 minute shows in those days). It was a musical program, that featured her and her guests performing various musical numbers. It received positive reviews and it looked like a hit that was set for a long run. However, the early days of television were hampered by a rampant “Red Scare”, in which artists were accused of being Communist Party members. Ms. Scott, was not then and never was a Communist. However, her no-nonsense manner and her controversial husband, along with her color, made her a prime target of the red baiters. Her name appeared in the rag, “Red Channels”. She voluntarily appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in mid-September 1950, and vehemently denied Communist Party membership. It didn’t matter. The sponsors ran for the hills and The Hazel Scott Show was cancelled on September 29, 1950.

Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

By the late 50’s the Red Scare had affected Ms. Scott’s career. Her marriage to Powell, was also crumbling, due in large part to his philandering. To escape marital troubles, racism and political stupidity, Ms. Scott moved to Paris, in 1958. She then divorced Adam Clayton Powell in 1960 and married Swiss comedian Ezio Bedin, in 1961. They divorced amicably a few years later. By 1967, Scott, struggled to make a living in Europe, despite speaking seven languages. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, also meant that life had, legally, improved in the U.S. It was time for Hazel Scott, and her son, to go home.

Hazel Scott worked sporadically, over the last 15 years of her life, including the two episode OLTL gig, that I mentioned earlier. Sadly, she passed away from cancer, in October 1981. She was 61 years old.

If a simple shout out from Alicia Keys, will lead to a renaissance for this brilliant, overlooked, American artist and pioneer, I am all for it. Not too many of her recordings are currently in print but I will list a few below. There was also a definitive biography, written by Karen Chilton, in 2008.

Hazel Scott – Partial Discography

Relaxed Piano Moods (with Mingus and Roach) [OJC]- her best album. Short in playing time but worthwhile. Get it while it’s still available.

‘Round Midnight [Fresh Sound] – An after hours style, easy listening album.

Hazel Scott 1946-47 [Classics] – a nice overview of her style, combining short classical solos and swing jazz pieces. Recording quality is spotty. OOP and hard to find.

The Book

Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC – by Karen Chilton; September 2008; University of Michigan Press

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Tributes to a King – Max Roach – Billy Taylor – Duke Ellington

Posted in In Memoriam, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on April 4, 2015 by curtjazz

martin luther kingAs most of you know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 47 years ago today in Memphis. Much has been written over the years about that tragic day in American history, including a previous post in this blog. So today, I choose to honor Dr. King with musical tributes from three of jazz’s all-time greats; Max Roach, Dr. Billy Taylor  and Duke Ellington.

Hope you enjoy them…

Max Roach plays a duet with excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 

If You Are Concerned Then Show It – from Dr. Billy Taylor’s Peaceful Warrior Suite – Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King

“Martin Luther King” was the 3rd Movement of Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings suite; one of the last symphonic works completed by Mr. Ellington. As he lay dying in his hospital room, Ellington dictated instructions for the performance  and orchestration of this piece to his son, Mercer. It was not publicly performed until after Duke’s death.

An added bonus! Here is a fourth clip that I just stumbled upon, describing a meeting between Dr. King and Duke Ellington – both, understandably, were in awe of each other…

I Have A Dream – The Entire Speech

Posted in In Memoriam, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on August 28, 2013 by curtjazz

Martin Luther King - LPI’ve written posts here before about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he and his life and work meant so much directly to my parents and indirectly to me as I was not quite eight years old when he was assassinated. I’ve studied him at length over the years and I’ve grown to admire him greatly.

I recall that a few weeks after Dr. King’s murder, my parents bought the album that you see pictured here, which included Dr. King and many other speakers from the day, including Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph and John Lewis. The liner notes by the way, were written by the great jazz writer and 1st amendment advocate Nat Hentoff.

That album was on heavy rotation in my home for at least a year, maybe more. In that time I became extremely familiar with Dr. King’s words from that day and the majesty of his oratory. In addition, I was exposed to the stentorian tones  of Mr. Randolph and the youthful passion of Mr. Lewis both of which have stuck with me to this day.

As I got older and did a little acting, I was asked on many occasions to recreate Dr. King’s word from that day in 1963. As I took on the daunting task of memorizing the entire 16 minute plus speech, the words grew in meaning for me exponentially. I always felt that the public was cheated each year during January and February when television would truncate everything down to the words “I have a dream” and “Free at last, Free at last…”. To me it was if you had reduced the entire Holy Bible to “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35).

In most cases, I was asked in performance to “skip to the good part”, beginning with “I say to you today my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…”. (This is the first mention of the immortal words, which occurs about 11 minutes in, when King decided to abandon his prepared text and decided to “preach”, using words he first had used in a speech in Detroit two months earlier.)   As a performer,  I understood why folks asked me to do this. There’s still a little over five minutes left in the speech and all of it is highly memorable.

But it was still frustrating as even five minutes was too much for some. I remember the youth pastor of a church that I was attending, begging me to come out to Jones Beach one Sunday evening to deliver “the good part” at a summertime concert. He asked me to come in full suit and tie, which made me feel ridiculous while everyone else, this pastor included, was in t-shirt and shorts. He then took a few minutes to apologize to the audience before I came on, because I was going to deliver “the whole speech” as he called this 5 minute segment and he then begged them not to leave while I performed.

Having been set up for failure, I nevertheless went on, in spite of being now mocked by some drunks who felt empowered by this man’s apology. The final insult came when this youth pastor returned as I finish to literally hold me in place on the stage while he told people “you see, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” While a loud, bad Christian rock band played behind us and he screamed about “Freedom” and “Brotherhood”, while hoisting my hand in the air with his. I’d never been a theatrical hostage before. It was a new experience. And I left feeling totally used and extremely angry.

Anyway I told that story because I had to finally get it off my chest after twenty years. I can now put it to rest. The main reason I write today is to post this video of the entire 16 minutes of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was once titled “A Cancelled Check” during earlier drafts. If you watch this you may figure out why. I’ve also included a clip of Dr. Billy Taylor’s beautiful King tribute “His Name Was Martin” featuring  Dr. Taylor on the piano and the wonderful Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. And a fascinating piece by the great Max Roach, featuring his drum solo against some of the famous quotations from the speech.  I hope that you’ll enjoy that as well.

Until the next time, the struggle (and the jazz) continues…

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!