Desert Island Disc 8, “The Sidewinder”

album-Lee-Morgan-The-SidewinderThe final album I have elected to choose in my game of Desert Island Discs has to be the super-famous Blue Note recording from Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder.  This is an opportunity to get some more of my all-time favorite musicians in the mix of choices I get to take to this imaginary island.  The leader, Lee Morgan is on trumpet, with Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.  This album, and specifically the title tune, is often referred to as one of the defining pieces in the “soul-jazz” sub-genre.  In fact, the title composition was released as a single and had some notable popular success on the Billboard charts.

“The Sidewinder”, Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan

The commercial successes of this album inspired many other albums to be modeled after it.  Blue Note would encourage/request/strongly recommend that Morgan and other artists include a funky opening number with a similar boogaloo beat to entice sales.  The great irony of this situation is that Morgan had recorded the tune as filler for the album, a sort of easygoing throwaway idea.  He was much prouder of his playing in other places on this and other albums.  He likely came to dislike having to repeat this tune on numerous gigs throughout his career, because it was his best known tune.

Joe Henderson

Joe Henderson

Joe Henderson is one of the best tenor saxophone players of all time.  His playing can be found on well over a hundred albums spanning his over forty-year career.  His name will pop up on dozens of my favorite albums.  I particularly like his solo on “Hocus-Pocus” from this album.

“Hocus-Pocus”, Lee Morgan

The rest of the album is filled with great hard bop tunes, the kind of thing that the Blue Note label of the 1960’s was famous for.  Lee Morgan himself only barely lived past the 60’s, having died in February of 1972.  He was shot in a jazz club by his common-law wife, and tragically died of the injuries, partly because the ambulance service was reluctant and slow in responding to the area where the club was located.  Lee should have paid more attention to one of my rules to live by, which is to keep your woman happy.  If mama ain’t happy, no one is happy!

Well there you have it, the eighth and final pick on my list of jazz albums I would want if stranded on a desert island.  If you have listened to all of them, you will have met some of my best friends.  On trumpet, we have heard Miles, Freddie, Clifford, Woody, Blue and Lee.  Coltrane, Cannonball, Wayne, Sonny, Dexter and Joe have all joined the party on saxophone.  Horace, Art, Elvin, McCoy, Max and many others have appeared in the rhythm sections.  There are many giants of jazz who did not appear on any of the eight albums I have packed away, but I think you would get a pretty good introduction to some quality straight-ahead jazz if you started with this collection.  All of these albums have been important in my musical development, and I hope you have enjoyed the survey too.

Desert Island Disc 7, “Horace-Scope”

horace-scopeThe 1960 album Horace-Scope, by The Horace Silver Quintet and released on the Blue Note label, would be my next to final choice in my ongoing game of Desert Island Discs.  This is an album I first heard on a cassette tape made for me by a friend who had the record.  (I hope the statute of limitations on that bootlegging has run out!).  I have since bought it over the years on compact disc and digital download.  In the future, I guess I will just think of music I want to hear and my credit card will automatically be charged by some company paying as small a royalty to the actual artist as they can get away with.  I’ll probably have to buy the Beatles White Album again too.

Horace Silver on piano is the leader on this album, and all but one of the tunes are his original compositions.  Silver was a pioneer in that sub-category of Jazz that is often labeled “hard-bop”, although I can think of few things in this world more easygoing than Horace Silver’s writing.  He is often said to have incorporated influences from gospel music, Latin-American and African music, soul music and tied them all together with a consistently bluesy sound.  (That is just the kind of sentence I despise, because it tells you less than nothing about what to expect when you hear the music.)  In this case, a tune is worth a thousand words, so here is the opening tune from the album.

Strollin, Horace Silver Quintet

The other musicians on the recording are Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Junior Cook on tenor saxophone, Gene Taylor on bass, and Detroit’s own Roy Brooks on drums.  It’s a little difficult for me to judge how well known these names are to the world at large, because they are so familiar to me.  Blue Mitchell, for example, is one of my favorite trumpeters. Having appeared on over 25 of his own albums as a leader, and another 50 or 60 as a sideman,  I can spot his playing from miles away.  I don’t think, however, that he is the same household name outside my household.  Junior Cook likewise, is a great tenor saxophonist that more people should look up and enjoy.

Everyone in the jazz scene in Detroit is very familiar with the name Roy Brooks.  He was a fantastic bop drummer, as can be heard on Horace-Scope and countless other albums.  In the 1970’s he founded a group of his own called The Artistic Truth.  His career was undoubtedly hurt at times by his erratic behavior and struggles with mental health issues.  Sometimes he sought treatment, and sometimes he did not.  I saw Brooks perform at the annual Jazz Festival in Detroit with an all percussion group he called the Aboriginal Percussion Choir.  The percussion group rehearsed in his basement in Detroit, and anything you could hit and make a sound was fair game to be a percussion instrument.  The performance was a wonderful, polyrhythmic jumble of grooves, with one of the most memorable features being Brooks playing a musical saw.

Many of the tunes on Horace-Scope have gone on to become jazz standards, as have many of Silver’s compositions from other albums.  The closing tune on the album is another fine example of this.

Nica’s Dream, Horace Silver Quintet

Horace Silver

Horace Silver

Well, there you have it.  The beginning and the end of one of my favorite jazz albums.  It’s up to you to go out and find the middle, which I assure you is just as satisfying.  Sadly, Horace Silver passed away in June 2014 at the age of 85.  In the liner notes to a different album, Horace once said:

“Musical composition should bring happiness and joy to people and make them forget their troubles.”

I think the music of Horace Silver has accomplished that a million times over.

Another Desert Island Disc

BBC Radio has a long running program called Desert Island Discs.  It is an interview program that invites a public figure to name eight recordings they could not live without.  The guests are supposed to imagine themselves stranded on a desert island and choose eight pieces of music they would want with them.  They get to pick a favorite book and one luxury item to have as well.  These choices enlighten the audience to some personal insights about the guest.  It makes for an interesting dinner party game and can lead to some fascinating discussions.

A love SupremeI already wrote about one of the recordings I would have to pick.  Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is an easy pick to guess for anyone who knows me.  The earlier blog post about Kind of Blue can be read here.  Another clear choice for me is the famous 1965 album from the John Coltrane Quartet, A Love Supreme.  I have owned this recording on vinyl LP, on compact disc, on my iPod and in the special two disc Deluxe Edition released in 2002.

On this record, we hear some of the greatest work by the “classic” Coltrane quartet:  McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Coltrane playing tenor saxophone.   By the time of this recording, they had been playing something like 300 dates a year together for about 3 years.  They improvised freely like they could read each others’ musical minds. The albums they created are required listening for any fan of Jazz.

This album was a very spiritual work for Coltrane.  His struggles over the years with drug and alcohol addiction have been written about many times, and he credited a loving, merciful God with giving him the strength to continue to fight those addictions.  A Love Supreme is a declaration of faith from Coltrane, and also some of the best music ever recorded.  NPR has an article on their site telling some of the story of the recording.

The Story of “A Love Supreme”

I have listened to this album hundreds of times.  I can hear the whole thing in my head without the album even playing.  I have studied it, transcribed it, stumbled through sad attempts to play along with it, and I never get tired of it.  It wasn’t until I owned the 2002 Deluxe Edition that I realized Coltrane had written a poem for this music.  The liner notes for this 2002 release include the complete text of the poem, and can be read here.

Liner notes to “A Love Supreme”

Classic Coltrane Quartet

Classic Coltrane Quartet

The suite has four parts: “Acknowledgement”, “Resolution”, “Pursuance” and “Psalm”.  It is the final part, “Psalm”, that Trane is intoning the poem in his saxophone melody.  If you follow along with Trane, he is playing the poem and the words fit his phrasing exactly.  He is clearly reciting the poem in his head and playing melody to go with it.  Imagine my experience in discovering this for the first time.  I had listened to this record for a dozen years and didn’t imagine there was anything I didn’t know about it.  Then this poem opens up a whole new layer of meaning and insight.

Here is that fourth part of the album, “Psalm”, with the words by Coltrane.

John Coltrane Quartet,  “Psalm”

That is one of the things about good music, it keeps revealing new things upon repeated listening.  It “wears” well, and that is why I will keep on listening to A Love Supreme.  So that’s two albums for me, I get to take 6 more to the island.  What would be on your list of Desert Island Discs?