Two For The Price Of One

Two For The Price Of One

Double_Take_(album)Two of my absolute favorite jazz trumpet players of all time are Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.  I can listen to them for hours on end and never get tired of their playing.  In 1985, they teamed up for an album on the Blue Note label entitled Double Take. If I had a nickel for every time I have listened to that album, I would have a lot of nickels for sure.  Freddie plays trumpet and flugelhorn, while Woody plays trumpet on the entire album.  Detroit native Kenny Garrett plays alto saxophone and flute, and the rhythm section on the record is the great Mulgrew Miller on piano, Carl Allen on drums and Cecil McBee on bass.  

In 1985 the technology of the recording industry was in a state of flux.  New albums were being released both on vinyl records and cassette tapes, and the manufacturing of compact discs was in its infancy.  Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, and there was no such thing as Google.  Vinyl records were beginning their exit from the commercial market, and some great music could be purchased at a bargain price on vinyl.  That is how I got my first copy of Double Take.  

Hubbard and ShawThe album is remarkable because the two great musicians don’t compete with each other, but work collaboratively and in the most satisfying musical way.  So many times when you get a couple of trumpet players together, things become a competition of flashy licks and high note spectacles where the musicality suffers.  Freddie and Woody never stop playing ideas, great, interesting musical ideas, and the result is a great record.  They pay respect to some of the great trumpet players that have come before them, playing tunes on the album composed by Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham and Lee Morgan.  I think I wore out a needle on my turntable just playing the Clifford Brown tune “Sandu” over and over.

“Sandu”, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, Double Take

The_Eternal_TriangleTwo years later, in 1987, Blue Note saw fit to record the two trumpeters again, and this time the resulting album was named The Eternal Triangle.  It featured the same lineup of players, with Ray Drummond substituting on bass.  This time the name of the album came from a tune written by Sonny Stitt, which Freddie and Woody play on the record. Again, I purchased the album on vinyl record, and listened to it repeatedly.  I made bootleg copies of each album onto cassette tape and listened to them in the car.  I listened to them on a Sony Walkman, played them on my tower speakers attached to the hi-fi, and never got tired of the bluesy, straight-ahead, swinging jazz sound.  

“The Eternal Triangle”, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, The Eternal Triangle

Sadly, I missed getting the albums on compact disc when they were released together as The Complete Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions in 1995.  For a long time, the albums were just out of print and unavailable.  When my music collection moved to a computer hard drive of digital files, these two albums were left behind for a time.  I have to say it left a big hole in my collection of jazz albums, but eventually fortune smiled and saw fit to release them on iTunes and on Amazon Music.  I was very happy to welcome them to my digital collection.  The albums are also available on Spotify, and still, I have found I never get tired of listening to them.  Now if anyone wants a used copy of the original Star Wars Trilogy on VHS tape or DVD, please contact me.  I skipped the Blu-Ray versions, but fear I will soon be sucked into owning digital movie copies.  How many more times do I have to buy these things?

Double Take on Spotify
The Eternal Triangle on Spotify

Desert Island Disc 6, “Homecoming”

My latest pick in my game of “Desert Island Discs” is one that definitely feels like I am getting bonus miles out of my choice.  If my last choice seemed like cheating, with Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, and Max Roach all on one album, this time I have rewritten the rulebook.  If you remember,  the previous five albums I would want if stranded on a desert island were:

Kind of Blue, Miles Davis

A Love Supreme, John Coltrane Quartet

Ugetsu, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

Maiden Voyage, Herbie Hancock

Sonny Rollins plus 4, Sonny Rollins

Village VanguardAlbum number six is “Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard” by Dexter Gordon, documenting Dexter’s triumphant 1976 return from Europe.  This album has Dexter on tenor saxophone, and he is playing with the great trumpeter Woody Shaw and his working small group.  To top it off, it is a live DOUBLE album.  We get to hear the players stretch out with longer solos, and play with the electricity of a live audience.

Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon

Gordon had lived in Europe for 15 years prior to this recording, only visiting the United States occasionally.  More than a few jazz musicians spent time in Europe during the 60’s and 70’s.  Like many of them, Dexter felt he was better appreciated as an artist overseas, and felt less overt racism, as he avoided the racial tensions in 1960’s America.  He stayed away so long in fact, that the owner of the Village Vanguard was afraid audiences would not remember him.  If the performances made money, the club would pay the band, but if no one came, the tour manager was going to have to pay the musicians out of her own money!  This arrangement was not a big vote of confidence.

Acoustic jazz was in a sad state in 1976.  Miles Davis was playing electric rock-jazz fusion.  Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and many others were recording with electric groups.  Coltrane was gone, and his posthumous bank of recordings was dwindling. Long Tall Dexter’s homecoming to New York was not a guaranteed success.  Fortunately, someone had the foresight to record his live performance.  Columbia released the album in 1977, as the record company started to believe there was a market for acoustic jazz.

The opening tune on the album is named “Gingerbread Boy”, and on it you can clearly hear Dexter quote “Here Comes the Bride” as he begins the fifth blues chorus of his solo. This is one of those inside jokes that even the live audience might not understand.  Why did he quote that in the middle of the solo?  Did his wife walk in the club at that moment, or the wife of the club owner?  Was there a waitress with a “Bride of Frankenstein” hairdo that the band had been joking about?  Was Woody Shaw teasing the older musician about how he should incorporate more fourths in his soloing, like the young lions of the day?  Unfortunately, this tune isn’t available on YouTube, but you can listen to the album at Spotify for free.

Spotify: Dexter Gordon “Homecoming”

The two videos I can find from this album are below.  On the first, you can hear Dexter’s idiosyncratic habit of reciting the lyrics of a tune before the band plays.

“It’s You or No One”

The second is the classic Thelonious Monk tune ‘Round Midnight.

“ ‘Round Midnight”

Woody Shaw

Woody Shaw

Woody Shaw was the trumpet player on this recording, and a couple of his original compositions are included on the album.   Woody was a brilliant musician, possessing a photographic memory as well as perfect pitch.  He always recorded with acoustic groups, never following the electric-fusion trends of the 1970’s.  Woody was a fabulous, innovative soloist and jazz composer. I would recommend any album you find by Woody Shaw.  Tragically, he died in 1989 from health complications following an accident where he was hit by a subway car.  Woody was losing his sight from a degenerative eye disease, and the details surrounding the accident are murky.  There may have even been an element of intentional self-harm on Woody’s part.  His death was a great loss to the world of music.

The month of July is going to be dedicated to writing about American composers to celebrate Independence Day.  I will return with the last two picks in this Jazz series of Desert Island Discs in August.  That gives me some time to ponder my last two choices.  Stay tuned!