April 16, 2016
GOLD RECORD BASSIST HENRY “THE SKIPPER” FRANKLIN HERALDED WORLDWIDE
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Henry Franklin’s case, it’s absolutely true. His father, “Samuel “Sammy” Franklin, made his mark in Denver, Colorado first playing violin, then trombone and finally mastering the trumpet. For years he performed with the George Morrison Band and honing his craft as part of the popular YMCA band in Denver. Later, he found himself in Kansas City as part of the Benny Moten Band. He also played in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, Andy Kirks band, and a number of others before he decided to form his own musical organization in Los Angeles. The Sammy Franklin Orchestra entertained at various west coast clubs, as well as fraternity and sorority dances. Once settled into the Los Angeles music scene, probably one of the things he found most attractive (other than the good weather and crush of music jobs) was pretty, little Vera Wysinger, a native of California and a registered nurse. They married and up popped Henry Carl Franklin, who today his friends fondly refer to as, “the Skipper”.
I recently asked Henry Franklin how he got that nick name of “the Skipper”?
“I borrowed it from my son. On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled it, ‘The Skipper.’ Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kamon), had written a tune for his God son, (who is my son) and he named it Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper”.
When I asked Henry about his dad and the music business he said, “He had a popular society dance band in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t into Bebop. I turned him on to that. I used to bring the cats over to our house and that’s when he heard it. His main message to me was to practice, practice, practice.”
At eighteen years old, Henry Franklin had followed his dad’s instructions and was already part of a popular local group with vibraphonist, Roy Ayers.
“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums). After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen him since,” Henry told me.
Ayer’s Latin Jazz Quintet played at Frat Houses, private parties and eventually night clubs. The fledgling group used to follow Cal Tjader around every time he would come to town. People would hire Cal for entertainment when they hosted parties and Henry said their group would go in and play on Cal’s intermission.
“Cal liked Roy Ayers and our band, so he let us play on their break and it turned out to be a thing. Every time they came into town, we’d be hanging with Cal and his group.“
It had to be very inspirational to Henry and his group of youthful musicians striving to be jazz artists, hanging out with the likes of Callen Radcliffe Tjader, born in 1925, who was already firmly established in the music business. Tjader was combining the music of Cuba and the Caribbean with acid jazz and rock. The 1960’s may have been one of Tjader’s most prolific periods. Franklin would have been rubbing shoulders with Tjader’s historic band mates like Lonnie Hewlett, known for his singing and piano playing; Armando Peraza on percussion; bassist Eugene Wright (fondly called, the Senator), drummer Al Torre, and pianist Vince Guaraldi. During the Verve years Tjader worked with Donald Byrd, Lalo Schifrin, Willie Bobo, a young Chick Corea, Clare Fischer, Jimmy Heath and Kenny Burrell. So Franklin was surrounded by examples of excellence early on. At that time in his career, Paul Chambers was Franklin’s hero.
It wasn’t long before Henry was married and working for the City of Los Angeles in Animal Regulations. At night, he still pursued his music and on weekends sometimes traveled to nearby cities to perform. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet, formed in 1963 by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group, featuring Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass, Bill “Kamon” Henderson on piano, Varner Barlow on drums and Jack Fulks on flute and alto saxophone, was performing in San Francisco.
“I was in San Francisco working with Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. We had a little light-weight hit record with the same instrumentation as Cal Tjader; vibes and stuff. We got this gig. Our first time out of town, we went to San Francisco for a weekend. It just so happened that Willie Bobo was working around the corner at a club; the Matadore. He came in on his break and checked out the band. I guess he liked me ‘cause he asked me if I wanted to join his band in New York. I said yes, but you know, I didn’t believe him. Three days later, he sent me a ticket. I had a little day job then, because I was married with a family to support. So, I talked it over with my wife and she said, yeah – go ahead. Right away, I quit that City job and moved to New York. I was really blessed and lucky ‘cause I got to stay at Roy Ayers’ house and didn’t have to pay rent or anything. He had gone to New York before me with Herbie Mann. Yeah, that happened a lot in those days. You know, the East Coast band would hear somebody from the West Coast and they’d call them to work; Roy Ayers, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Herbie Lewis, all those guys got calls. So it was my turn. I got the opportunity and I took it.”
It was about a year of touring before Henry would wind up back in Los Angeles at the famous Memory Lane Supper Club, a hot jazz spot in the African American community. That’s when Henry decided he’d had enough of being on the road with Willie Bobo.
“So I gave two-weeks-notice and it just so happened that in the audience one night was the South African jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela. He was just starting up a new band and asked me if I’d like to join his group. I said, heck yeah. The result was my first Gold Record for the hit recording of “Grazin’ In the Grass”.
Henry Franklin has found his way onto the recording sessions of several icons and not all of them were jazz musicians. Stevie Wonder called him to add his solid, double-bass, low notes to the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album. Boom! That became another Gold record accomplishment.
Franklin recorded with Gene Harris and the Three Sounds on “Soul Symphony” for Blue Note Records in 1969 and “Live at the It Club” in 1970, Volume one and two. In 1972, he joined Woody Shaw in the studio to record “Song of Songs” for Contemporary Records. By 1973, he was playing with Hampton Hawes and recorded for the Prestige label, the “Blues for Walls” album. That same year he was recording with Bobbi Humphrey on her “Bobbi Humphrey Live: Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux.” Franklin was a hot commodity on bass back then. No sooner did he finish his stint with Humprey, he was back in the studio with Julian Priester on the “Love, Love” album for ECM. If he wasn’t in the studio, he was on the road with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Willie Bobo, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau. He had already started composing and one of his original compositions was sampled by the musical group, “A Tribe Called Quest.” He’s been on the bandstand working with such icons as Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Henry pushed his musical limits. He experimented outside the bebop music that he loved so deeply, working with John Carter and Bobby Bradford. Henry recorded two albums; “Self-Determination Music” and “Secrets.” He worked with the great Pharoah Sanders, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, jazz vocalist Joe Williams and Bobby Hutcherson. He’s appeared on more than 150 albums as part of their rhythm section and worked with some of the biggest names in jazz history.
Henry expressed disappointment with some of the jazz releases and styles of youthful players in today’s jazz spotlight.
He told me, “I miss the melodies in the music. There’s no melodies anymore like there used to be. You used to be able to identify a song with an artist. You can’t do that anymore. See, If I asked you to name five Freddie Hubbard songs, you could tell me. But if I asked you to tell me a Wynton Marsalis song, you probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. There’s a lot of feeling with these young musicians and a lot of great technique, but I come from the bebop era, where music and composition is more than just technique.”
Speaking of technique and instrumentation, I asked Henry Franklin if he played Fender bass.
“I did and I don’t. When I was with Freddie Hubbard he had me playing fender bass and O.C. Smith liked that sound too. I like German bases. Both of my upright basses are built in the 1940’s. They’re not that old but the sound is what counts. One’s a Hoyer and the other’s a Wilfer. Unfortunately, you can’t just play acoustic bass on a gig anymore. These days everybody uses an amplifier.”
Henry decided to start his own SP record label in 1990. He was frustrated with big record labels and various hired producers telling him what to play and how to play it. He wanted a platform to market and produce his own creative compositions and ideas. Even more importantly, he wanted to perform and record the bebop music he has loved so passionately over the years. The result is a roster of seventeen albums on SP Records, with the ninth one being released April 15, 2016. It’s titled, “High Voltage” and is a tribute to McCoy Tyner featuring a group he calls, Three More Sounds. They include Bill Heid on piano, Henry on bass, Carl Burnett on drums, with special guest, Chuck Manning on saxophone.
I listened to the soon to be released “High Voltage” CD featuring seasoned veterans of jazz, all intent on celebrating McCoy Tyner. This CD showcases Henry Franklin’s tenacious bass and also introduced me to the composer skills of Bill Heid. The trio opens with “Brother George,” a laid back groove and memorable melody that makes you want to whistle along, reminding me somewhat of Tin Tin Deo. Heid has a crisp, clean approach in the upper register of the piano, with busy fingers tinkling the piano keys like waterfall droplets. There is something refreshing about his playing. On this first cut, Franklin’s solo is a crowd-pleaser, with his deep contra bass always present and supportive in the background. Franklin is just as magnificent when upfront and in-your-face as a solo artist. On Heid’s composition, “Unit 8”, Chuck Manning leads the way with gusto and verve on his tenor saxophone to establish the melody. The trio follows brightly, marching full force ahead, waving flags of musical brilliance with Carl Burnett propelling the group on drums, straight-ahead, and putting the ‘con brio’ in the piece. Heid utilizes all eighty-eight keys on this one, flaunting his piano skills in a polished, delightful way. The mix is so clean that I feel I am sitting front-row-center at some cozy jazz club enjoying these gentlemen in person. Having worked with West Coast engineer Nolan Shaheed myself, I’m not surprised at the clarity his engineering skills bring to this recording. Both the McCoy Tyner songs they feature, “The Greeting” and “Mellow Minor” are performed in majestic ways, like one would expect from kings of instrumentation. I’m sure McCoy would be well pleased. Franklin has contributed an original composition titled, Under Tanzanian Skies.” It’s very melodic. Manning immediately captures my attention with his sweet, sexy, soprano saxophone solo. Heid’s right hand continues to mesmerize in the upper register and he gets to dig deeply into his blues roots on this tune. “High Voltage” featuring ‘Three More Sounds’ is a beautifully produced piece of art from beginning to end. You are guaranteed nearly fifty minutes of continuous, jazzy listening pleasure on this Henry Franklin Production and record label. His legacy continues, full speed ahead!
JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH/APRIL 2016 – REVIEW OF NEW JAZZ CD RELEASES & FEATURES
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
April 14, 2016
This is a month of rejuvenation, spring cleaning and April showers that bring May flowers. It also marks the official Jazz Appreciation Month. I’ve interviewed some of our Los Angeles jazz icons, out of respect for the historic value of jazz music. This month, you can read in depth interviews with vocalist/actor, Mel Carter and below, see my tribute to the legendary jazz vocalist, Bill Henderson (R.I.P). I appreciate all artists who put energy, practice, heart and soul into performing and recording jazz, our music of freedom. Below are some of those folks who continue to push the boundaries of our jazz universe. I both applaud them and sometimes (with critical reviews), encourage them to reach past mediocrity. Read my take on the Jazz Avant Garde groups paired with gospel soprano, Tiffany Jackson in a group called “A Balm in Gilead”; pianist, Louis Heriveaux; guitarist, Yu Ooka; vocalist,Daria; saxophonist, Ernie Watts; South African trumpeter, Darren English; pianist/composer Ari Erev, The Danny Green Trio and reed man, Dave Anderson. Enjoy.
A BALM IN GILEAD
Stanza USA Music
Rex Cadwallader, piano; Mike Asetta, bass; Arti Dixson, drums; Tiffany Jackson, soprano vocals.
Imagine an operatic soprano voice soaring over modern jazz chords and arrangements. Now add a group of gospel standards to the mix and you have an unusual, but compelling album of creative Christianity. Tiffany Jackson’s voice is warm, emotional and rich. Rex Cadwallader’s tentative, but well positioned piano chords play beneath the vocals in obvious support during their “A Balm in Gilead” production. This group introduces me to a concept I find new and unexpectedly pleasant. On “Deep River”, Jackson seems to start in one key with Cadwallader taking a moment to join her, playing rich harmonics beneath the first few bars; harmonics that seem not to match the vocalist’s melody at all. Never mind! She doesn’t hesitate or stumble. This melding of the traditional with ‘modern jazz’ is complex. Just the two of them play through this old spiritual song as a duet and Cadwallader becomes the river she is wading through, with strong steps. “This Little Light of Mine” is more of the same, but now she is joined by Mike Asetta on bass along with Arti Dixson on drums. The double bass is dominant and plays counterpoint to her rich soprano tones. This peculiar, but appealing contraflow of music captures the attention like a traffic accident. But nothing here is accidental. This is superbly arranged music that highlights the freedom found in modern jazz and the love of GOD in choice of repertoire. Here is something like nothing I’ve heard before or since. It opens me up to new horizons in a very creative and persuasive way, conceived by Cadwallader and paired as two very different and distinct styles of music; spiritual with free improvisation. This quartet of musicians work flawlessly together. The musical interludes without vocals are impressive as well. So here you have Avant Garde jazz born in the 1950’s, celebrated along with slave songs and spirituals that date back to the birthing of America and cotton-field-work songs. An interesting concept and strangely captivating, as only genius can be.
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LOUIS HERIVEAUX – “TRIADIC EPISODE”
Hot Shoe Records
Louis Heriveaux, piano; Curtis Lundy, bass; Terreon Gully, drums.
‘Triadic’ is an adjective derived from the noun, ‘triad’ described as “a set of three connected people or things.” On this recording, you will hear three amazing musicians locked together on common ground, forming a spiritual trine with purpose to express great joy in their music. There is nothing I enjoy better than a trio that can ‘Swing’. These master musicians do just that. Heriveaux is a sensitive, expressive pianist who takes time to interpret these standard jazz tunes as though he was singing the lyrics vocally. This is particularly obvious on his beautiful piano interpretation of “Body and Soul”. I also must praise these three musicians for sharing the spotlight equally and with verve. The title tune, “Triadic Episode” was co-written by Heriveaux and Lundy. It is plush with blues overtones featuring Lundy walking his bass hard and steady and Gully slapping the groove into the song with impeccable time and technique. Heriveaux has spiced this album up with some pretty impressive original compositions. “Theme for Doslyn” sounds like a jazz standard. The trio plays it at a fast clip, with Lundy’s melodic bass lines singing tastefully beneath their straight-ahead groove. Gully and Lundy make a solid platform for Heriveaux to stretch out, fingers flying over the keys with riffs and runs that are even and precise. Heriveaux continues this precision and speed on Cole Porter’s, “Everything I Love”. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this song played at the speed of light; but it works. Gully gets a chance to snatch an impressive solo and dangles it in the air like thunder and rainbows, full of color and percussive dynamics. Here is a lush, well-produced album that I will play over and over again, finding fresh joy and art each time it spins across my CD player.
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YU – “VEGAS DRIVE”
Yu Ooka, guitars & 3 string banjo called Shamisen; Patrice Rushen, Billy Mitchell, Boy Katindig on Piano; Jervonny “JV” Collier & Dan Lutz, bass; Kimo Cornwell, Derek Nakamoto and Shun Suzaki on Keyboards; Kenny Elliott & Excel Mangare on drums; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Nolan Shaheed, flugelhorn; Michael Paulo & Eric Marienthal, saxophone. Barbara Morrison, vocals; Ken Stacey, Valerie Pinkston, backup vocals.
This recording make me happy when I listen to it. From the very first original composition and title song by guitarist Yu Ooka, (“Vegas Drive”) the ensemble rolls out like a force of nature. What do I mean by that? Their music tickles my imagination and paints a picture of clear skies and open highways. I visualize a convertible with the top down, flying along Route 66 at a fast clip headed to Las Vegas. Kenny Elliott on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion both push the pedal to the metal, locking the rhythm in place the same way you adjust your cruise control. Kimo Cornwell on keyboards along with Michael Paulo on saxophone emphasize the strong melody line and Cornwell makes a bold statement on his keyboard instrument. This song sets the mood for an energetic, smooth jazz production. Yu shows his prowess as both a rhythm guitarist and soloist. On the Nora Jones hit record, “Don’t Know Why,” vocalist Barbara Morrison successfully puts her own spin on the tune, accompanied by iconic pianist Patrice Rushen. Yu has surrounded himself with some of the best jazz musicians in the business on his premiere artistic effort. You’ll hear pianists like Billy Mitchell and Boy Katindig. JV collier plays on six of the ten tunes and his powerful electric bass presence lends punch and intensity to the music. Eight of the ten songs are composed by ‘Yu’ and display depth and melodic integrity. This talented guitar master should get lots of airplay with this, his first solo release. Favorites cuts #1, #3, #8, and #10.
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DARIA – “STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER” (SONGS BY THE BEATLES)
Daria, vocals & background vocals; Jonathan Alford, piano, Rhodes & organ; Sam Bevan, bass, keyboards & guitar; Deszon Claiborne, drums; Michaelle Goerlitz & Colin Douglas, percussion; Jean Michel Huré, guitar; Henry Hung, trumpet; Mike Rinta, trombone; Sheldon Brown & Melecio Magdaluyo, (soloist) saxophones; Matthew Charles Hewlitt, guitar solo; Joseph Cohen, sitar; Matt Eakle, flute; Alex Kelly, cello; Roberta Donnay & Annie Stocking, backup vocals; Annie Stocking, vocal production.
Daria’s vocals rise above a dynamic horn section and expressive percussion work that puts a strong groove into “When I’m Sixty-four.” That opens her album as this vocalist brings the listening audience an interesting assortment of Beatle tunes with fresh jazzy arrangements. Sam Bevan and Daria have collaborated on arranging these popular compositions in a most unique way. I loudly applaud these arrangements and the talented musicians who interpret them. Henry Hung, on trumpet, adds his impeccable talents to Cut #4, “Fixing A Hole.” His solo is dynamic and he tastefully enhances Daria’s performance, knowing just where to place improvised ‘riffs’ and ‘fills’. I believe he inspired her to cut loose and fly free vocally on this number, letting her vocals mimic a horn and even blend with the horn section at times. I Love this arrangement. I enjoyed her ‘swing’ arrangement of “Can’t Buy Me Love”. She gives us a small taste of her scat singing abilities here. The “Bird” medley is well-done. I think Daria is not afraid to take chances with her production and arranging capabilities. She combines a medley of three tunes in a most interesting way on cut #6, incorporating “Bye Bye Blackbird” with the Beatles “Blackbird” and “Icarus” tunes. The big band sounding arrangement on “The Fool On the Hill” is spectacular, as is the Latin flavored, “If I Fell.” I think Daria may be a very excellent jazz producer and arranger, trapped inside a pop singer’s body.
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ERNIE WATTS QUARTET – “WHEEL OF TIME”
Flying Dolphin Records
Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone; Christof Saenger, piano; Rudi Engel, acoustic bass; Heinrich Koebberling, drums.
As to be expected from the great Ernie Watts, his first composition comes out swinging as hard and strong as Muhammad Ali. This Ernie Watts original composition, “Letter From Home,” firmly establishes the mood and musicianship interpreting his music. He races full speed and straight ahead from this point forward. “Inner Urge” is an up-tempo piece that showcases the signature Watts energy and innovation. Koebberling gets to show off his percussive excellence, trading fours on this tune and taking a solo that highlights his innovative technique. Rudi Engel offers an exceptional bass performance on Cut #4, “Andi’s Blues”. This is an Engle original composition. It’s well written and Swings in an easy-kind-of-way, at a moderate pace. Christof Saenger is apropos on piano, showing off a flair for skillfully played improvisational scales, performed with perfect time and technique. Koebberling roots the music on trap drums, holding the group firmly in place and adding flair and color in appropriate places. But Watts is clearly the star here, shining brightly on his Keilwerth tenor saxophone. The Watts composition, “Velocity” makes me wonder how he can play that fast, with that intensely and go that long without taking a breath. But then, ‘velocity’ does mean “the speed of something in a given direction.” Favorite cuts #1, #3, #4, #7 and #10.
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DARREN ENGLISH – “IMAGINE NATION”
Hot Shoe Records
Darren English, trumpet; Kenny Banks, jr., piano; Billy Thornton, bass; Chris Burroughs, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Carmen Bradford, vocals; Greg Tardy, tenor saxophone; Russell Gunn, trumpet; Joe Grandsden, trumpet.
Darren English’s lovely tone on trumpet is like a wiggling finger from across the room, compelling me to come closer and crawl inside the music. “Imagine Nation” is one of this trumpeter’s original compositions and it opens a very creative album of music, incorporating song and spoken word. Kenny Banks, Jr., on piano, hypnotizes my attention with an improvisational solo, showing brilliance with both hands dancing across the keys. Chris Burroughs on drums punctuates every musical move, every cadence and crescendo in his own magnificent way. On “Body and Soul” Billy Thornton sings the bass line underneath to colorfully support English on trumpet. The bass does not just walk, it jogs and pirouettes from the recording, playing unexpected lines of beauty and rhythm. I’m intrigued. On “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” when Grammy Award winning vocalist, Carmen Bradford joins the ensemble and adds pizazz to the jazz with her ever-excellent, smooth vocals. English and the band fly at an incredible pace on this tune, until the end when they break down the rhythm into a blues and simply jam and scat their way out of it. When Nelson Mandela’s distinctive voice enters the scene on cut #5, “Pledge for Peace” it comes as a welcome surprise. In the press package, English explains that “Imagine Nation,” “Pledge for Peace,” and “The Birth” are part of a suite he composed that pays tribute to this great South African leader. English melts jazz and Mr. Mandela’s spoken-word-speech together tastefully, like maize and mealie porridge.
English is also from Cape Town, South Africa and has studied music at home in Africa, in Norway and finished his education with a Master’s degree at Georgia State University. He lived in Italy for a while, but now he has returned to the States, settling in Atlanta and bringing his multi-cultural influences along to sweeten the music like Melktert, a popular South African dessert. His arrangements (amply supported by an amazing group of musicians) are intense, compelling and uplifting. English is a young lion new to the jazz scene. I look forward to many more recordings by this talented artist.
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DANNY GREEN TRIO – “ALTERED NARRATIVES”
Danny Green, piano; Justin Grinnell, bass; Julien Cantelm, drums; Antoine Silverman, violin; Max Moston, violin; Chris Cardona, viola; Anja Wood, cello.
This album features the compositions of Danny Green as well as his skills on the piano. I found his compositions to be interesting, melodic and memorable. I especially liked track #1 with its heavy blues influence, reminding me a lot of the “Killer Joe” song. I was all set for more. Then came track #2, “The Merge” which was totally different and pleasing in an entirely different kind of way. Track #3, “October Ballad” is very classically inspired and beautiful, with a rich bass solo by Justin Grinnell. Another favorite of mine was Track #5, where Green has arranged the string section, once again leaning heavily towards classical music. I thought cut #9 brought me back to the jazz feel, but what I found puzzling was the production. This CD was recorded very acoustically and yet I found some compositions that leant themselves more to a smooth jazz approach. It was also a hodge-podge of styles and productions. Sometimes, they were heavily classical rather than the standard or straight-ahead jazz. Also, far too much echo on the grand piano. You can really hear it on track #5 in contrast to all those beautiful string parts that Green has written to compliment his composition titled, “Second Chance.” It’s the higher piano register that suffers from this mix. Still, the talent of Danny Green and his trio far exceeds a troubling ‘Mix’. However, because of the diversity of the styles and compositions, it was hard for this reviewer to hone in on who this dynamic, young pianist really is. I would chance to guess that he, himself, is still searching to find himself musically. The final tune on this album, “Serious Fun” is just that; serious fun! Julien Cantelm gets an opportunity to show off his drumming skills in a big way. He made this song pop and explode with emotion and drive. One thing I can definitely attest to is that Green is a fine composer and has surrounded himself with talented musicians who play his work beautifully and enhance it with their musical expertise. Perhaps he explained his approach best in his linear notes.
“I have always been the type to immerse myself in one genre of music, artist, or composer for months to years at a time. From Nirvana, ska and Latin jazz to Brazilian music, straight ahead jazz and wagner operas; all these different musical phases that I went through helped shape who I am as a pianist and composer.”
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ARI EREV – FLOW
Ari Erev, piano; Eli Magen, double bass; Ron Almog, drums; Yuval Cohen, soprano sax; Gilad Dobrecky, percussion.
This is a very melodic, easy listening project featuring some original compositions and the piano art of Ari Erev. There are some Latin tinged tunes that lift the spirit like “Jumping on the Water” that features exciting trap drum work by Ron Almog and strong percussion by Gilad Dobrecky. “Latin Currents”, cut #10, is also an up-tempo, happy little tune. But for the most part, here is 68-muinutes of a very laid-back production, featuring mostly moderate tempos with heavy classical overtones.
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DAVE ANDERSON – “BLUE INNUENDO”
Dave Anderson, tenor & soprano saxophones; Pat Bianchi, organ; Tom Guarna, guitar; Matt Wilson, drums.
This is a spirited new release by reed man, Dave Anderson, featuring Pat Bianchi, who swings hard on organ, feet pedaling like crazy, and reminds me of the days of Jimmy Smith’s fine quartet. Guarna jumps right into the mix on guitar and their first tune, “Urban Dilemmea” is fast paced and very impressive. All the music on this CD is composed by Anderson. He offers a nice variety of moods and arrangements with one consistent trait; they all are played with high energy and excellence. Moving from Modern Jazz to funk, Matt Wilson is a beast on drums, executing his skills consistently and firing up the other musicians. On “22 Doors” he pushes the musical envelop with improvisation and flair. “Blue Innuendo” is Anderson’s first, New York-based, record release after releasing two well-received albums in Seattle. Bianchi’s organ reminds me of the jazz of the 1960’s, while Anderson’s smart arrangements and composition mastery explore Modern jazz with a flair for the funk. His multi-saxophone skills on both tenor and soprano sax are evident throughout. This CD is full of impressive original music, high energy, and expert musicianship. I thoroughly enjoyed every tune they played, but favorites include the first two mentioned above, along with “12-Step Blues” and “Genealogy”.
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April 9, 2016
“MEL CARTER CONTINUES” TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME
by Dee Dee McNeil
Mel Carter’s new CD is titled, “Mel Carter Continues”. He is one of Southern California’s historic entertainers living in the Los Angeles area for decades. From the very early years of young Mel Carter’s life it was obvious that he was destined to be a singer. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio and regularly attending New Prospect Baptist Church, his vocal talents quickly became evident to the congregation and his family. In 1943, he was already a soloist at a mere four years old.
“I even have a ticket of when I used to do gospel church concerts and they have printed on it Master Melvin Carter,” Mel shared with me.
‘Master’ was the pronoun they used to describe children at that time. But indeed, this child prodigy was a bonafide master at singing. It didn’t take long for the entire community to take note.
“I could sing like an adult. Not sing with the power and everything, but I never sounded just like a little kid. That’s what I’m told. I sang in church all the time, but when I was six years old, I was on a television show called “Betty and the Boys” broadcasted on WKRC. They used to sit me on the piano to sing. “Betty and the Boys” was like a jazz trio. Betty played the piano. At that time, I was the popular kid that sang in Cincinnati, so they had me on that show.
“I was entered into contests. I had a reputation as a talented youngster. In those days, they used to have stage shows and musical contests where you could win a prize. On Saturdays they would have musical contests, sometimes inside movie theaters. The winner got to work with the band that was playing there. At nine years old, I was singing with those bands. I thought that was normal. Some of the other kids around town were doing it too, like Otis Williams and the Charms and the Shropshire singers. They were a gospel group and we were related. We were all in the group together. One of my cousins was Louise Shropshire, Alice was her sister and Mary her niece. Then there was cousin Olie, my mother, Claudia and myself. So, I grew up around them and always singing.”
Mel Carter comes from historic music stock. The granddaughter of slaves, Louise Shropshire, born February 15, 1913, was the original founder of the Gospel choir that still carries the Shropshire name. Louise was a composer of hymns. In 1935, she was discovered by the famous Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey at the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (the NCGCC). It is believed that her song, “If My Jesus Wills” (commonly known as “I’ll Overcome,” was adapted to become the very popular “We Shall Overcome” civil rights song. It was taught to Pete Seeger by folk singer Zilphia Horton. Mel’s cousin, Louise Shropshire copyrighted “If My Jesus Wills” in 1954. She recorded an additional copyright that same year for the song as part of a suite of eleven original gospel hymns entitled, “His Precious Blood.”
Little Melvin Carter was born April 22, 1939 at University Hospital. The first part of his life he lived downtown in what was referred to as Cincinnati’s West End; Lincoln Courts and John Street. Later, they moved to the Avondale section of the city. During that time, he attended Samuel Ach Junior High School. That school was built around 1907 and was demolished between 1975 and ’76.
It was Mel’s Aunt Dorothy, (Uncle John’s wife), who recognized his amazing talents right off the bat. Both his parents were very young when Mel was born. But before Mel even got to know his father, Melvin Thompson, died of Tuberculosis. They didn’t have a cure for TB at that time. This left his teenage mother to raise little Melvin as a single parent. She later remarried Albert Carter and he became the main father figure that Mel remembers. However, all his dad and mom’s brothers helped to raise him. He is the product of that saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
As a young man, Carter recorded with The Raymond Rasberry Singers and had a hit gospel record called, “No Tears In Heaven.” See ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alt7HkO7Who). He was signed to the Tri-State Record Label in Cincinnati and in 1958, he performed on the WCIN program called “New Stars.” Prior to that, Carter enjoyed singing with the Robert Anderson Singers. They were another popular gospel group of that day. But Mel’s ears were open to a variety of music styles and he was hungry to explore more musical avenues.
“I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great, great musicians down through the years. While singing in Chicago, I sat in with Jimmy Smith (organist). I got to sing “Misty” at Marty’s On the Hill” when it used to be on 57th and Broadway with the great composer of that tune, Erroll Garner on piano. When I was a teenager, I sang with Bill Doggett in Cincinnati. Bill Doggett used to work there and I used to play at a club over at the Manse Hotel in the Lounge. In those days you had to be a musician in order to get paid Union scale. I played the Cocktail drum in order to sing. The reason that I met all those people was because King Records was in Cincinnati. When people were recording at King Records they came there and stayed over at the Manse Hotel. I met Caldonia. There was a real lady named Caldonia, not just the song. When I met her, she was appearing with Eddie Cleanhead Vincent at the Wine Bar in Avondale. She was a singer. Maybe she’s the one they wrote that song about. I met Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vincent there. Cincinnati’s State Theater and Regal Theater was part of that performance group, all in arms reach from each other in that neighborhood. So I have memorable moments of performing with, or rubbing shoulders with, some of these iconic legends.”
Mel is recalling a piece of Cincinnati history. NOTE: According to http://www.african-americanchamber.com/media-press-releases
There was a period where black athletes and black musicians could not stay in the Downtown hotels because of the color of their skin. So, my father took it upon himself to do something about it,” states Horvena Sudduth Alexander, the daughter of serial entrepreneur Horace Sudduth as she expounds on the creation of the Manse Hotel in Walnut Hills. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Josephine Baker and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, signed the guest book of that 108-room Walnut Hills landmark. These music greats often crossed paths with Manse guests who made their living playing baseball. That group included no fewer than five future Hall-of-Famers: the Cincinnati Reds’ Frank Robinson, the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, the Braves’ Hank Aaron and the Giants’ Willie Mays. Today, the Manse Hotel has been converted into apartment buildings.
“I met Sam Cooke in Chicago, when I moved there and was singing with the Robert Anderson Singers. We used to be part of Gospel packages that travelled and sang together. That’s when I first met Sam. Later, when I came to L.A. in 1959, it was only natural for me to contact Sam Cooke. In those days, you literally went to people’s offices. But before Sam and I got together, I was signed to Doris Day’s company. In fact, Doris Day was responsible for me getting that record deal because she was there at the office the day that I went in to audition. Her office was on North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. We had an audition scheduled, and like I said, when you went in you had to sing ‘live.’ She had them sign me on the spot. This was before going to Sam Cooke’s label. On Doris Day’s label, Arwin Records, I had a release called ‘I’m Coming Home’. I stayed on her label about a year.”
Mel later signed a record deal with Quincy Jones on Mercury Records, where a hit single was released featuring popular Los Angeles session vocalist, Clydie King. IT was called, “The Wrong Side of Town” on the Phillips label, part of the Mercury family. They also released, Mel on a record called, “I Need You So”.
“One evening Sam Cooke came down to a club where I was singing. It was the California Club, where they used to have an open jam session during the week. Then I was working at a club on Manchester and Broadway. He came there. After that, I went to his office, maybe the next day, and he signed me. You know, it was more than just quick, because He had written a song, ‘When A Boy Falls In Love’ and was thinking about launching his ‘pop’ label. There was nobody like me on his label. He had The Simms Twins, the Valentinos (who were Bobby Womack and his brothers), Bobby Womack, Johnny Taylor and Lou Rawls. There were too many words in that song, but It was magical to me. Right out the gate, that was the first national hit I had and it launched Sam’s Derby Record Label. That became his Pop division. His was one of the pioneer Black owned companies to have a black artist cross over to the Pop market. That was 1963. In 1964 he would be shot dead. He was only 33 years old.
“After my successful record on Sam Cooke’s label, I had the opportunity to go to Imperial Records. We had a meeting with Sam and he said he didn’t want to be the person who stood in my way. That’s the kind of guy he was. He let me out of my contract. At that time, Liberty records was the mother company of Imperial and the #6 record company in the country. We signed with Eddie Ray, who ran Imperial Records at that time. Bob Skaff, the head of the A&R department at Liberty, was responsible for bringing “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” to me and giving Nick DeCaro his first arranging assignment.”
Mel’s signing with Imperial went well. The first record that they released was ‘The Richest Man Alive’. In 1965, Billboard listed his song in the Regional Break-Out Singles Category and he appeared on American Bandstand, the popular television dance and music show hosted by the iconic Dick Clark. See him perform here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja8dvVzNO-c
This was the beginning of a string of appearances that Mel Carter made on the Dick Clark show. The next time he appeared on American Bandstand, he performed his hit, “When A Boy Falls In Love”.
But it was when Nick DeCaro wrote his unique and ear catching arrangement on Mel Carter’s next release that definitely put Carter on the national map.
“If you notice, my song, ‘Hold me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me’ has the most identifiable opening with that String orchestra sweep by Nick DeCaro. Funny thing is, I hated that song because I fancied myself as a jazz singer. I didn’t feel as though it fit my style. So when we did the song, I had to be directed to sing on the beat.”
Watch his recent standing ovation here:
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” was a #8 hit in 1965 on the Billboard Top 100 Charts and #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening Chart. Interestingly enough, Mel was not the first person to record this music. The original song, written by Harry Noble, was recorded first in 1952 by Karen Chandler, who became a one-hit-wonder with that song. It was also a moderate success for Sonny Til and the Orioles on the R&B charts. Much later, in 1959 Connie Francis covered the tune. After Mel’s success with the song, it was recorded again in 1969 by Shirley Bassey; then by Johnny Mathis and Bobby Vinton in 1977 and finally, in 1994, by Gloria Estefan. But the most successful version continues to be Mel Carter’s.
Years of hard work and singing was finally paying off big time. Mel found himself appearing on several popular variety shows including “The Tonight Show”, “Hullabaloo,” “Shindig,” “The Pat Boone Show,” “Rosie Grier’s Show,” and “Merv Griffin’s Show.” Mel’s life and career was rolling along smoothly until Halloween night in 1969. Then something unspeakable happened that changed everything.
“On Halloween night (1969) a friend and I were coming down La Cienega Avenue and right before we got to Pico Blvd, the car conked out. At that time, the area was upper/middle class with very few people of color living there. Unexpectedly, the police cruised by and just my luck, one of those irresponsible policemen happened to be having a bad night. He approached us with a negative attitude. I tried to explain about the car, but he didn’t want to hear any of that. Next thing we know, they called for back-up. Now there were four cops. Two were just standing there, watching. They asked me to sign a ticket they issued and as I was signing the ticket, the next thing I knew I was coughing up blood and spitting up dirt in the gutter. This one policeman had used his Billy-club and choked me from behind. Consequently, I lost my singing voice because of that. it took a year or so for me to sing again, all because of his unwarranted actions. He injured my vocal chords. I sued the L.A.P.D. and eventually won my case.”
As horrible as this incident was, Mel rebounded in an unexpected way. Because of his injuries, he couldn’t sing for quite a while. All his concerts and tours had to be cancelled. The doctors couldn’t say when he would be well enough to return to his singing career and the bills were rolling in. So his agent suggested he begin to audition for acting roles. Mel followed his agent’s lead and thus began a lucrative acting career. He found his way onto television comedies like the popular “Sanford & Son” starring Red Foxx, “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Good Times” and “New Love American Style,” to name just a few. He appeared on drama shows like “The Outcasts” “Marcus Welby, M.D.”, “David Cassidy,” an NBC soap called “Santa Barbara,” “Quincy” and “Magnum, P.I.” with Tom Sellick.
“We filmed three pilots for the Magnum P.I. Show in Los Angeles. I played the Dewie Wilson character. He was the guy who played piano in the club. But when they moved to Hawaii, they changed all that. They didn’t reproduce that club. I would have been a regular on the Tom Sellick show, if it weren’t for that move. Looking back, acting was just a natural progression of things. Doing the speaking and doing the acting opened me up more as a performer.”
Thankfully, Mel Carter’s voice healed and in time, he returned to concerts and what he loved the most; singing. More recently, he has released a trilogy of three CD projects.
Mel explained, “The first one was Heart & Soul with Mel Carter. With the second, that was called, Mel Carter: The Other Standards, and now it’s Mel Carter Continues. Early on in my career, I did all the Gershwin, Arlen and sang all those standards that everybody does over and over again. But I went back to the people who I grew up listening to on my most recent release. To me, their songs are Standards too. Some would call them R&B Standards or Pop Standards of that era. I recorded music made popular by the Inkspots, Johnny Ace and Little Willie John on this recent CD. They were artists who inspired me back in the day.”
Mel Carter’s rich tenor voice has only become stronger with the years. On his recent, self-produced recording project, he has chosen a bushel basket full of oldies-but-goodies and refreshed them with his own unique and personal style. On “Just in Time” embellished with a big band arrangement, he adds the rarely heard verse of the song and his bell-clear tones prove his vocals are still powerful and plush with emotion. “Pledging My Love” was made popular in the 50’s by Johnny Ace and Carter does a superb job of reinventing this old doo-wop classic tune into an emotional ballad. The gospel song, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” is arranged with a big band background and it ‘Swings.’ John Rodby is credited for all the arrangements with the exception of “The Legends of Rock & Roll” that was arranged by Eric Butler and composed by Carter. This original composition is a duet with Lenny Welsh. Mel’s album showcases a rich heritage in music as he interprets classic songs by some of his favorite artists including Little Willie John, The Ink Spots, Annie Laurie, Ivory Joe Hunter and more. It’s a pleasant and nostalgic experience for someone like me, who remembers those classic popular songs from the 50’s and 60’s. But it will certainly please the more youthful ears, bringing to the forefront songs that have strongly stood the test of time for over half a century, the same way this artist has.
April 8, 2016
TRIBUTE TO BILL HENDERSON, A JAZZ VOCAL ICON (March 19, 1926 – April 3, 2016)
By Dee Dee McNeil
Those of us in Los Angeles haven’t seen William Randall “Bill” Henderson in a couple of years. Close friends and associates whispered that he was having some health challenges. He wasn’t in the audiences of what’s left of jazz clubs in L.A.; not the way he used to be. I remember being totally blown away to see him in the audience when I was performing with the Bennie Maupin Orchestra during a fundraising for the California Jazz Foundation several years back. I ran over to his seat, after my songs, and thanked him for being there and for his unforgettable contributions to the legacy of jazz. He smiled at me and thanked me for my talent and for carrying the jazz torch forward. He was a humble and sensitive human being. I feel blessed to have met him, let alone to have received a compliment from him.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, (March 19, 1926), Henderson had a style, tone and presence that was smooth as black velvet, tinged with a rich vibrato and a style all his own. In 1952 his professional music career notably upgraded when he joined with Ramsey Lewis and began recording as a leader. In 1958, he moved to New York and was quickly embraced by that jazz community. It was his tasty vocals that made Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues” tune a splash hit record. It remains one of the Blue Note label’s top-selling singles. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdko41PwfXM).
Next, he began to perform and eventually record with world renowned pianist, Oscar Peterson. Their album was titled, “Bill Henderson with the Oscar Peterson Trio.” It wasn’t long before he was headlining with iconic jazz masters like organist, Jimmy Smith, big band leader, Count Basie, reed virtuoso, Yusef Lateef and Eddie Harris. Trumpeter Booker Little was among his sidemen when Vee Jay Records recorded “Bill Henderson Sings” in 1958. His backup bands were always made up of the very best in the business. Stars like the Tommy Flanagan Quartet and Thad Jones’ Big Band played behind this big man with the captivating voice. His discography offers more than thirty recordings for you to dial up and enjoy at your computer.
On April 3, 2016, our dear Bill Henderson made his transition and left his voice behind for us to enjoy. With technology the way it is, those of you not lucky enough to hear him in person, should take time to listen now. He is a part of the jazz legacy we have loved and lost. All you hopeful male vocalists out there, perk up your ears, dial up http://www.youtube.com and hear how a master interprets lyrics, delivers phrases with meaning and purpose, and interprets each song in his own inimitable way. Bill Henderson, you will be missed.
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