1960 Jazz: Blue Note Records

1960 was an interesting year for jazz labels. After the big bang year of 1959, a year which produced seminal forward-looking jazz albums such as Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, the expectation of audiences from jazz music started to shift. Blue Note, a label that produced some of the best hard bop albums in the second part of the 1950s, found it more and more challenging to keep selling albums in that style. It took the label a few more years to diverse its portfolio and deep its toes in more contemporary jazz styles, but it still maintained a very high standard in its releases. The label also kept signing young musicians new on the scene that proved to be some of the best jazz composers and performers of the 1960s.

Blue Note was very active in 1960, with close to 60 sessions booked, resulting with sufficient material to cut over 40 albums. All the studio sessions were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s new studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, with a few additional sessions cut at Birdland and Half Note jazz clubs.

Lets take a look at some of these albums.

1960 started with a Jimmy Smith trio session on January 4th that yielded the album Crazy! Baby. Smith was a best seller artist for the label after popularizing the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument, releasing 16 albums with the label between 1956 and 1959. His best recordings for the label may have been behind him at this point, and he would sign with Norman Granz’s Verve Records a few years later. Still, his take on the classic Dizzy Gillespie standard A Night in Tunisia is quite interesting. Leonard Feather wrote in the liner notes:

“I’d like to leave the concluding remark to Jimmy, who made this observation in a recent telephone chat: ‘Leonard, I’m going to be at the moon before Khrushchev gets there, and before I leave I’m going to stop by and get Coltrane. And you know I’ll have to pick up Monk, because he’ll be home in bed, but I’m on my way!’”

The cover photo features model and future Playboy Bunny Marion Barker posing in front of a Jaguar.

Jimmy Smith – organ

Quentin Warren – guitar

Donald Bailey – drums

Later the same month trumpeter Donald Byrd visited the studio with a quintet and recorded the album Byrd in Flight.

Nat Hentoff wrote in the liner notes: “Much of the reason that jazz continues to hold the interest of listeners who have been collecting since their early teens is that it can reflect so many variegated emotions and personalities. And Donald Byrd’s is one of the more relaxed personalities of the contemporary scene. There is a puckish, fun-and-games aura to his music as well as a clear, strong feeling for melody that make his performances a welcome oasis of spring-like enthusiasm. This is such an album – music for its own sake with youthful freshness and the kind of swing that lifts the listener.”

Excellent ensemble gathered for this session:

Donald Byrd – trumpet

Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone

Duke Pearson – piano

Doug Watkins – bass

Lex Humphries – drums

Here is the track Ghana from the album, a fine example of mixing Latin grooves with jazz improvisations that was so popular on many Blue Note albums from that period:

We come to February 1960 and a session that produced one of Blue Note’s finest albums, music and cover photograph alike. By that point Hank Mobley released a number of albums with the label, starting with his debut as a leader in 1955. The session he led now, a quartet with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey, would become his defining album for the label.

After a flurry of recording activity up to 1958, Hank Mobley went silent. This was his comeback album after nearly two years of scarce activity due to drug problems. Judging from this session, the drugs may have kept him away from the studio, but did not hinder his playing skills. Returning to a quartet format as the only horn player, we get ample opportunities to hear his great soloing.

Speaking of solos, the album includes the celebrated tune This I Dig of You, written by Mobley. Many jazz students in music schools have studied and transcribed this tune and Mobley’s solo in it. Add to it an amazing drum solo by Art Blakey and you get jazz perfection.

Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone

Wynton Kelly – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Art Blakey – drums

Only a week later Blue Note cut one of their more interesting albums that year. The Connection was a unique stage production in which jazz musicians were part of the drama, playing music and acting. The premise of the play was a group of junkies waiting for their connection, the drug dealer, to come with their fix of heroin. The musicians appeared with their real names, seeking wider recognition to their musician-selves. Jack Gelber, the playwright, had jazz on his mind when he wrote the play in 1957. In a note at the bottom of the first page of the manuscript he wrote “The jazz played is in the tradition of Charlie Parker.” When pianist Freddie Redd saw those instructions he immediately thought of Jackie McLean: “I thought, ‘Hell, man, get Jackie! I knew his abilities and I knew he was a ham anyway.” The original plan was to have the musicians play and improvise on standards, but when Gelber cast Freddie Redd as the piano player, Redd asked him if he could write the music. The play saw success in theaters across the country, with jazz luminaries such as Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp and Dexter Gordon playing the musicians roles in different incarnations of the production.

Freddie Redd – piano

Jackie McLean – alto saxophone

Michael Mattos – bass

Larry Ritchie – drums

Speaking of Jackie McLean, two months later he was back in the same studio to record his album Capuchin Swing. A lesser known album in his discography but a fine album, with a stellar performance on the title track.

From the liner notes to the original album by Ira Gitler: “Capuchin Swing is Jackie’s dedication to Mr. Jones, the McLean family’s pet monkey, pictured on the cover. After a mention like this, Mr. Jones is bound to get ‘star eyes’. The versatile Taylor backs the latinized sections well and adds some spicy comments. Jackie’s big open sound commands attention. Blue flows freely along with the ease and grace that never desert him during the entire set. Bish digs for two choruses where he puts the alternation of the background rhythms to good use.”

Jackie McLean – alto saxophone

Blue Mitchell – trumpet

Walter Bishop, Jr. – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Art Taylor – drums

Blue Note sessions were often led by musicians who just a month or two earlier were sidemen on a date by one of the sidemen on their current session. Such was the case in April 1960 when trumpeter Lee Morgan recorded the album Lee-Way. Both he and pianist Bobby Timmons were part of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at the time, and the drummer guests on this date.

Not many tracks have been dedicated to record executives or producers, and this one is doing justice to two of them: The Lion and the Wolf is dedicated to Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, founders of the label.

Nat Hentoff in the original liner notes: “McLean, like Morgan, plays with that instantly communicable confidence that comes from the knowledge that the instrument has become a complete extension of your ideas and feelings, and there are no longer apt to be short circuits between ideas and execution.”

Lee Morgan – trumpet

Jackie McLean – alto saxophone

Bobby Timmons – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Art Blakey – drums

June 1960 brings with it another Blue Note classic album from one more trumpet legend. This was Freddie Hubbard’s first session as a leader, at the age of 22. An important factor in this session is tenor sax player Tina Brooks. Hubbard said this about Brooks: “I loved Tina. He would write shit out on the spot and it would be beautiful. He wrote Gypsy Blue for me on the first record, and I loved it. I just loved it. Tina made my first record date wonderful. He wrote and played beautifully. What a soulful, inspiring cat.” The two met at a session at Count Basie’s club, and a week after this session Hubbard returned the favor and played on the album True Blue by Tina Brooks.

Freddie Hubbard – trumpet

Tina Brooks – tenor saxophone

McCoy Tyner – piano

Sam Jones – bass

Clifford Jarvis – drums

Here is the title track, with great solos by both horn players.

One of Blue Note’s best-selling artists was in the studio in July 1960 with a fine group of jazz musicians. Horace Silver started recording with Blue Note in 1952 and continued to record with the label as a leader for three decades. At this point in his career he had a steady quintet that recorded two albums the previous year, Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ the Blues Away. The session here included a performance of the excellent tune Nica’s Dream. The tune was written by Silver and was first recorded by the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers when Silver was part of that group in 1956. Silver wrote it as a dedication to Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the New York socialite who was a patron of jazz in the 1950s and hosted jam sessions in her hotel suite. She helped many jazz musicians through difficult times, including Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Many jazz tunes were written for her, a few by Monk, including Pannonica.

Horace Silver – piano

Blue Mitchell – trumpet

Junior Cook – tenor saxophone

Gene Taylor – bass

Roy Brooks – drums

One more debut album by a young jazz musician was recorded in August 1960, this time by organist Larry Young, who was only 20 years old at the time.

Larry Young started his career in music with classical piano education and then as a teenager rock ‘n’ roll singer in Newark. He later switched to the organ and was influenced by Jimmy Smith. This is his debut, a soul jazz album. A few years later he would become a major force in the experimental jazz scene.

From the album sleeve notes: “Testifying is a blues-based, slow rocking number which the trio put together one night returning to Newark by train from a gig in the south. Larry’s powerful organ pounds out the insistent rhythm of the train’s wheels rolling over the rails. Woven into the improvisations on organ and guitar are some of the earthy rhythms they learned with Newark church choirs and rock ‘n’ roll groups.”

Larry Young – organ

Thornel Schwartz – guitar

Jimmie Smith – drums

From an up and coming young musician to one who has been through the ropes for a while. Pianist Duke Jordan started his professional career as a musician in the early 1940s but did not record a session as a leader until 1954, when he recorded his classic tune Jordu. Between 1946 and 1948 he played in Charlie Parker’s band, when Miles Davis and Max Roach were his peers. About that period he said: “Working with Bird was a fantastic experience. He was such an inspiration and often I heard him play things that were greater than anything he could do in a recording studio.”

Here is the title track from the album Flight to Jordan, with a melody fashioned after the spiritual ‘Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho’.

Duke Jordan – piano

Dizzy Reece – trumpet

Stanley Turrentine – tenor saxophone

Reggie Workman – bass

Art Taylor – drums

August 1960 was a busy month at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, with five albums cut for the Blue Note label that month. One of them was by drummer Art Taylor, his sole album as a leader with the label. This is a fantastic, yet lesser known album on the Blue Note catalog. Taylor was one of the most recorded jazz musicians throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1960 alone he is listed in over 30 album credits as a sideman.

Art Taylor – drums

Dave Burns – trumpet

Stanley Turrentine – tenor saxophone

Wynton Kelly – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Syeeda’s Song Flute was written by John Coltrane for his daughter and first appeared on his milestone album Giant Steps the previous year, with Art Taylor also playing the drums on that album.

From one drummer to another, this time one of the best known jazz drummers in the history of the genre. We reviewed albums by a number of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alumni here, so it is time to feature one album by their alma mater. The session in August 1960 featured one of the best incarnations of that famed jazz ensemble. The young musicians around Art Blakey are fantastic, and the drummer also benefitted from the composing skills of Lee Morgan, Wayne Short and Bobby Timmons.

Art Blakey – drums

Lee Morgan – trumpet

Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone

Bobby Timmons – piano

Jymie Merritt – bass

Here is the title track from the album A Night In Tunisia. This is one of the most energetic performances of the well-known jazz standard, written by Dizzy Gillespie. Art Blakey remembers: “Dizzy wrote this tune while we were all in Billy Eckstine’s big band. That was a terrific band. I guess Dizzy just thought of Eastern things and the excitement of the Orient.” Notice Blakey’s tribal drum solo.

Two more albums for this review, both by musicians we already featured in the article, both recorded in November 1960. The first is Freddie Hubbard’s second album on Blue Note after his debut Open Sesame. From Ira Gitler’s original sleeve notes: “Asiatic Raes (Recorded by Sonny Rollins on Newk’s Time), has also been recorded by composer Kenny Dorham as ‘Lotus Blossom’. Its constantly fresh melody and interesting harmonic pattern lend themselves to inspired improvisation to all the principals. Chambers has a bowed solo before Hubbard and Jones exchange some highly charged fours. Philly is especially effective in the closing portions of the arrangement.”

Freddie Hubbard – trumpet

Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone

McCoy Tyner – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Philly Joe Jones – drums

A week later Freddie Hubbard returned to the same studio, this time as a sideman for a session by Hank Mobley that resulted with the tenor player’s album Roll Call. Hubbard about the recording session, as captured in the original liner notes: “I think it was my best date so far. Everything had a nice feeling. I felt so much freer than I ever had before in a recording studio and that’s because it’s so easy to play with the kind of talent of the guys on the date. And we had just about the best rhythm section there is: Blakey, um, ah, yes! He feels up the whole studio. He makes you open up – he made everybody open up.”

Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone

Freddie Hubbard – trumpet

Wynton Kelly – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Art Blakey – drums


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