1960 Jazz: Riverside Records

In the previous article covering jazz music in 1960 we focused on Blue Note Records, one of the most celebrated labels in the history of the genre. However there were many other labels focusing on jazz at that time, all of them small and struggling fiscally to survive, all of them ran by folks dedicated to the music as fans. One of them was Orrin Keepnews and this article focuses on his label Riverside Records. The label was founded in 1953 and kept releasing a healthy dose of albums until it went bankrupt in 1964, its catalog sold to Fantasy Records. In 1960 alone they booked 75 sessions, yielding enough material for nearly just as many albums, an astonishing rate for such a small independent label. As Keepnews said, “Our goal wasn’t to sell a lot of records and get rich. Our goal was to sell enough records to make the next one.”

Let us look at a selection of Riverside albums recorded in 1960.

In January of 1960 pianist Bobby Timmons and his trio recorded a session at Reeves Sound Studios in New York City. Timmons was at the time a member of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet and this was his debut solo album as a leader. Timmons was also a gifted composer and this album, This Here Is Bobby Timmons, includes some of his finest numbers, including the well-known tune Moanin’ plus Joy Ride and Dat There.

Another fine tune by Timmons opens the album. This Here was recorded a few months earlier for the album The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, with Bobby Timmons as a member of the group. It fits perfectly with the rhythm ‘n blues leanings of that quintet and was one of their favorite tunes in live performances. From the original sleeve notes: “Cannonball’s frequent description of this number as being ‘simultaneously a shout and a chant’ and being related to ‘the roots of soul church music’ is a good word-picture of its nature. It is very definitely a hand-clapping number. When it is played on the job, it is endlessly fascinating to watch and hear the crowd join in that way (even though the fact that it is also a waltz seems to escape a good many people and causes them to get fearfully tangled up in their clapping!)”

Bobby Timmons – piano

Sam Jones – bass

Jimmy Cobb – drums

January 1960 brings with it another session, this time for a jazz classic and one of Riverside Records’ best known albums – The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery. This was Wes Montgomery’s second album for the label, riding high after his debut as a leader the year before with The Wes Montgomery Trio. Jazz critic Ralph Gleason wrote in a review for that album: “He has the electric quality, that special gift making whatever he does come alive, that marks the true artist. He has terrific swing, the ability to build solos dramatically and beautifully to climax after climax, and everything he plays has a sense of rightness about it.”

Orrin Keepnews said this about the gifted guitarist: “One of the most remarkable things about Wes Montgomery is the strength of feeling about him. Wes and Bill Evans were the same kind of insecure. They did not believe fundamentally that it was possible that people were seriously paying that much attention to them. Musicians had tremendous respect for him, even later when he became a pop success.”

It is amazing how fast and fluid he plays the guitar with the thumb picking technique. Pianist Tommy Flanagan who played on that session said of Montgomery: “This date was the first time I met Wes. He was very shy and nervous because he couldn’t read (music) but his knowledge went far beyond anything we knew. We were stunned by his incredible musicianship. No one played guitar at that point like he did. Usually he’d lay the first chorus of a solo in single notes, the second in octaves, and the third in chords. It was a complete change from what we had heard before – we haven’t heard anyone like that since.”

Wes Montgomery – electric guitar

Tommy Flanagan – piano

Percy Heath – bass

Albert Heath – drums

Here is the opening track, an excellent take on the Sonny Rollins standard Airegin (Nigeria spelled backwards).

Only a day later Wes Montgomery was back in the studio for another Riverside session. The label was always on a tight budget, and Orrin Keepnews figured that since he is already covering the travel expenses for bringing Wes Montgomery from his home town of Indianapolis, he might as well use the guitarist services on another session. Led by Cannonball Adderley’s band mate and young brother Nat, this is a sextet date with an interesting lineup. The original liner notes open with: “This is an album with a sound you are guaranteed not to have heard before, featuring a distinctive and fascinating front-line blend in which the melody instruments – the three ‘horns’, you could say – are cornet, guitar and cello!” The session includes Nat Adderley’s fellow members in his brother’s group: Bobby Timmons, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes.

The album includes the title track Work Song, now a classic jazz standard. This was the first recording of the tune, at this point an instrumental written by Adderley. Lyrics would be added a year later by Oscar Brown Jr.

Nat Adderley – cornet

Wes Montgomery – guitar

Bobby Timmons – piano

Sam Jones – cello

Percy Heath – bass

Louis Hayes – drums

The month of February 1960 brings with it a change of pace and a session by fantastic delta blues musician John Lee Hooker. In 1959 and 1960 Hooker took a break from his contract with the Vee Jay label and recorded a few acoustic guitar albums for Riverside Records. The first was a solo album called The Country Blues Of John Lee Hooker, followed by this album – That’s My Story. The trio setting includes Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums, both with the Cannonball Adderley group at the time. This was a welcome break from the race records and R&B albums Hooker focused on in the previous decade, back to his Deep South blues roots.

John Lee Hooker – guitar, vocals

Louis Hayes – drums

Sam Jones – bass

The song Come On And See About Me has no relation to a Supremes song by an almost identical name. It is a great performance of a traditional gospel tune.

Cannonball Adderley’s group was all over the Riverside catalog in 1960. Albums by almost all band members were recorded that year, and the month of March saw the band’s bass player Sam Jones leading a session for his debut solo album The Soul Society. Sam Jones was not only a member of Cannonball Adderley’s band, he was one of Riverside’s key rhythm section musicians, along with pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Not surprisingly, the session included fellow band mates Nat Adderley and Bobby Timmons. The great front line consists of Blue Mitchell and Jimmy Heath.

Cannonball himself wrote the liner notes for the album: “Everyone’s initial reaction to Sam Jones’ playing is respect for his big sound and choice notes. Orrin Keepnews, Riverside’s A & R chief, says: ‘Probably the best favor ever done for me by Miles Davis is that I was first introduced to Sam by him.’ Sam is now Riverside’s first-call bassist and although I haven’t actually counted, it is my distinct impression that he has appeared on nearly half the label’s releases since mid-1958.”

Sam Jones – bass, cello

Nat Adderley – cornet

Blue Mitchell – trumpet

Jimmy Heath – tenor saxophone

Charles Davis – baritone saxophone

Bobby Timmons – piano

Keter Betts – bass (when Sam Jones plays cello)

Louis Hayes – drums

Here is the track Home, named after Sam Jones’ nickname (he used to refer to everyone else as ‘Home’).

We proceed to April 1960 and come to the most revered musician by label head Orrin Keepnews. After producing 12 albums with Thelonious Monk, he said this about the pianist and composer: “Over time, this man taught me a hell of a lot about life—and about being a producer. He taught me to have enormous respect for the music and for jazz artists—and to protect the integrity of creativity at all costs.”

This recording was made during Monk’s second visit of San Francisco. The first trip one year earlier yielded a solo album, and this time he took his quartet and added two LA horn players, trumpeter Joe Gordon and tenor Harold Land, to make it a sextet recording.

The album was recorded at the Black Hawk club, where many jazz greats passed through during its years of operation, 1949-1963. Albums recorded there feature live dates by Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, Cal Tjader, Shelly Manne and Mongo Santamaría.

Joe Gordon – trumpet

Harold Land – tenor saxophone

Charlie Rouse – tenor saxophone

Thelonious Monk – piano

John Ore – bass

Billy Higgins – drums

Here is Epistrophy, one of Monk’s signature tunes:

One more debut album was recorded in August 1960 for Riverside Records, this time by the Mangione Brothers Sextet, led by siblings Chuck and Gap, natives of Rochester, NY. The recording was the result of a visit to that city by two other brothers, the Adderleys. Cannonball and Nat were highly impressed by the Mangiones and recommended them to Orrin Keepnews at Riverside. The sextet, all in their early 20s or less (Chuck Mangione was only 19 at the time) was one of the youngest full groups to appear on the scene in that period of jazz music.

Pianist Gap Mangione remembers that, “On that first record I had wanted nothing more in the world than to sound like Horace Silver.” Chuck Mangione talks about sax player Sal Nistico: “You can hear the fire and spark that Sal gave to the band. His playing was so energetic, very warm—one of those guys who sounded totally unique. When Sal would play the first note for a new audience, heads would turn around. All this energy was bouncing out so intensely and logically from this guy all the time, but it wasn’t an intellectual thrill you got from him. It was uplifting.”

Trumpet – Chuck Mangione

Tenor Saxophone – Sal Nistico

Alto Saxophone – Larry Combs

Piano – Gap Mangione

Bass – Bill Saunders

Drums – Roy McCurdy

Here is the album opener, a Chuck Mangione original named Something Different. Ages before the trumpeter will hit the big time with instrumentals like ‘Feels So Good’.

The same month Blue Mitchell recorded his fourth album for Riverside Records, Blue’s Moods. Blue Mitchell was another musician on the Riverside roster who came to Orrin Keepnews’ attention through Cannonball Adderley. His debut was the fantastic album Blue Soul in 1958, with Cannonball in the lineup. Blue’s Moods was the first time he recorded a quartet album with him functioning as the sole horn player. His solo career with Riverside paralleled his membership with Horace Silver’s quintet, with whom he played until 1964, the year Riverside dissolved.

An interesting track on the album is the original composition Kinda Vague. From the liner notes: “Blue is playing a vintage cornet belonging to Riverside engineer Ray Fowler. This horn has long fascinated Blue , and this introspective tune, in which members of the rhythm section seem to drift in and out (‘kind of vaguely’), was built around the mood suggested by the far-off, slightly wry sound of the cornet.”

Blue Mitchell – trumpet, cornet

Wynton Kelly – piano

Sam Jones – bass

Roy Brooks – drums

We will spend the rest of this article with recordings made during the month of October 1960. The first is by Yusef Lateef, his second session as a leader for the label, this time with a large ensemble of nine musicians.

Yusef Lateef is known for his love of instruments not usually heard in a jazz context. The ensemble includes a bassoon player, and Lateef plays flute and oboe. In 1957, after playing flute for a year, Lateef studied under Ronald Odemark, first oboist of the Detroit Symphony. The oboe is quite rare in jazz, but Yusef had a characteristically direct, simple reason for taking it up: “It is unusual and I liked the sound.”

A stellar cast of musicians on this session, including one Joe Zawinul on an early recording.

Yusef Lateef – tenor saxophone, flute, argul, oboe

Richard Williams – trumpet

Clark Terry – flugelhorn, trumpet

Curtis Fuller – trombone

Josea Taylor – bassoon

Tate Houston – baritone saxophone

Joe Zawinul – piano

Ben Tucker – bass

Lex Humphries – drums

Lateef’s command of the oboe is best demonstrated on Iqbal, a selection that reflects his deep and sincere belief in the Moslem religion. Iqbal is his daughter’s name, the word meaning “flourishing and eminent.” At the start of the number, Yusef can be heard briefly on the argol – a short, wooden, double-reed instrument from India similar to those used by snake charmers.

We circled around the Cannonball Adderley quintet throughout the article, and it is time to feature an album by the band itself. In October that year a Riverside crew travelled to Los Angeles and recorded the quintet at the Lighthouse jazz club.

Producer Orrin Keepnews in the original liner notes, talking about the legendary club:

“The Lighthouse is something of a phenomenon among jazz clubs, not only because it has stayed in business for twelve years, but even more so because it has remained a relaxed, low pressure and resolutely popularly-priced club – and therefore, from a musician’s point of view, invariably a good place to play in and a magnet for good listening audiences. There is really nothing surprising in the Californians’ reaction to the group, for it has become quite clear that this quintet is just about universally recognized as one of the most invigorating ingredients ever added to the unique musical brew we call jazz.”

In its heyday as a jazz club, many recordings were made at the venue, including excellent albums by Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, Art Pepper, Art Blakey, Modern Jazz Quartet and others.

Cannonball Adderley – alto saxophone

Nat Adderley – cornet

Victor Feldman – piano

Sam Jones – bass

Louis Hayes – drums

We end this review with something completely different, and probably Riverside’s most forward-looking album recorded in 1960.

George Russell was another musician who came to Orrin Keepnews through Cannonball Adderley: “He talked to me about how interesting and valid the George Russell thing was. It wasn’t my kind of music, but it was interesting music. I ended up doing four albums on Riverside Records with George Russell groups. George Russell was the kind of composer/arranger/band leader who was able to use a band as a unit expressing his music in a way that rarely happened in our time.”

Russell led a sextet in the early 1960s for practical reasons: “It was impossible to have a big band at that time but this didn’t bother me too much. The small group was always the laboratory out of which the big band concepts come, so all my big band albums were really written with a small band in mind.” Members of the sextet in the three years of its existence included Don Ellis, Eric Dolphy, David Baker, Steve Swallow and vocalist Sheila Jordan. They also performed early compositions by Carla Bley, a student of Russell during this period.

In 1953 George Russell published his influential book ‘The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization’, the Lydian mode being the white-note scale starting on F, an equivalent to a major scale with a sharpened fourth. The critic JE Berendt wrote: “Russell’s concept of improvisation, Lydian in terms of medieval church scales, yet chromatic in the modern sense, was the great pathbreaker for Miles Davis’s and John Coltrane’s modality.”

George Russell: piano, arranger, conductor

Al Kiger: trumpet

David Baker: trombone

Dave Young: tenor saxophone

Chuck Israels: bass

Joe Hunt: drums


Read the previous article about jazz recorded in 1960:

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