1960 Jazz: Prestige New Jazz

In 1958 Bob Weinstock, founder of Prestige Records, decided to revive his label’s original 1949 name by starting a sub label named New Jazz. The goal was to split the jazz recordings between the main and sub labels, pointing some of the newer and forward looking artists towards New Jazz. In the late 1950s that sub label gave artists such as Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy, Gil Evans, Yusef Lateef, Oliver Nelson and others an outlet to release new and interesting music for those looking beyond the main label’s usual fair of blowing sessions.

A 1961 Downbeat article about producer Esmond Edwards explained that “Prestige New Jazz always has emphasized new artists, but its new direction will be a specialization on jazz of an experimental nature, whether the artists are new or not.”

Let us look at some of the recordings made for New Jazz in 1960.

As mentioned, New Jazz represented the more adventurous side of the Prestige label. We are not talking shockingly free or experimental jazz as the label did not dip its toes in the fringes of the genre, but you will find some quite unique records in this review. For example, an album by a musician playing an instrument new to him for the first time on the recording date.

Doug Watkins was born in Detroit in 1934 where he finished high school with schoolmates Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd. During his school years he worked hard on his upright bass chops and started playing gigs in the early 1950s. A few years later he moved to New York and started playing with Kenny Dorham, which led to him joining the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers and later the Horace Silver Quintet. He became a highly sought-after bass player, and his late 1950s recording credits include sessions with Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins and many others.

In May of 1960 Watkins recorded his second album as a leader at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. Unfortunately it was also his last recording effort as a leader. Watkins died in a tragic car accident in 1962, a career cut way too short for such a promising musician. For that session Watkins, one of the celebrated bass players of that period, decided not to play the bass and opted for the cello. Three days before the recording date a cello player lent him the instrument, and the session was the first opportunity he had to play it. Quite a daring feat, about which he said: “I usually do these tunes on bass but I wanted a different sound.  To me, the cello gets a tone between guitar and piano.” And if cello as a solo instrument in jazz is not unique enough, we also get Yusef Lateef on this session playing oboe and flute. This is not orchestrated chamber jazz ala west-coast mid -1950s recordings, but still a unique sounding album due to the instrumentation.

Doug Watkins – cello

Yusef Lateef – tenor saxophone, flute, oboe

Hugh Lawson – piano

Herman Wright – bass

Lex Humphries – drums

Ken McIntyre was a native of Boston where he completed a Master’s degree in music from Boston Conservatory before moving to New York. Like Yusef Lateef and future collaborator Eric Dolphy, McIntyre played multiple reed instruments including alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, oboe and bassoon. In May of 1960 he recorded his debut album as a leader for Prestige New Jazz with musicians from the Boston area.

Only a year after Ornette Coleman made a sensation debut at the Five Spot club in New York, McIntyre was labeled a “Post-Ornette Coleman saxophonist”. A misleading term, but McIntyre did share with Coleman his vocal approach to the saxophone: “I was a singer before I played but I stopped when I took up the saxophone. There are many notes other than the ones a piano is capable of – quartertones and semi-quarter tones that the voice can sing. The ear is not accustomed to hearing them all, but that’s only a matter of training. They can be played on the saxophone.”

A Downbeat review of the album described McIntyre one who as ”a composer and instrumentalist is one of the least forbidding of the wave of young musicians involved in the so-called (for better or worse) new thing.” More from Ken McIntyre later in the article.

Ken McIntyre – alto saxophone, flute

John Mancebo Lewis – trombone

Dizzy Sal – piano

Paul Morrison – bass

Bobby Ward – drums

From two label debuts we move to an artist who recorded his second album for New Jazz in 1960. Oliver Nelson moved to New York from St. Louis, Missouri in 1959 and quickly found work as both an alto saxophone player and arranger with big bands including Louis Bellson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones. His debut album as a leader was recorded in 1959 for Prestige, and in 1960 he followed up with the album Taking Care of Business.

Nelson had a master’s degree in music composition and theory and his education came as a valuable asset when trying to compete with the talent he found in the Big Apple: “Since arriving in New York I have been extremely lucky. A lot of musicians I met say it doesn’t depend on talent but I don’t agree. If I didn’t write and read music I wouldn’t be working.” Describing the bustling jazz scene in New York, he said: “A good thing is the amount of talent to be heard. It’s great for a guy to be able to listen to what all the other musicians are saying. Everyone sounds like Coltrane.”

Oliver Nelson – tenor saxophone, alto saxophone

Lem Winchester – vibraphone

Johnny “Hammond” Smith – organ

George Tucker – bass

Roy Haynes – drums

We stay with the drummer on Oliver Nelson’s album, who also recorded his second album for New Jazz in 1960. One of the most recognizable drummers in jazz history, Roy Haynes had by that time 13 years of recording experience behind him, playing as sideman on albums by jazz greats including Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and many more. In the mid-1950s he joined Sarah Vaughan’s band and recorded a number of fantastic albums with her, until he left that band in 1958. That year he recorded his first album for New Jazz, We Three with Paul Chambers & Phineas Newborn.

In 1960 he continued in a trio format and recorded the album Just Us. The album demonstrates his mastery of the drums on every track. Asked about his melodic approach to drumming, Haynes said: “’I started tuning the drums a lot. Don’t ask me what notes I was tuning them to. I would search for different melodic sounds, notes that I thought would fit what I was trying to do in the music that we were playing during that period.” As the joke goes, “Max Roach did it, Art Blakey did it, Philly Joe did it, but Roy Haynes did it and did it and did it and did it.”

 Roy Haynes – drums

Richard Wyands – piano

Eddie De Haas – bass

Here is Con Alma, a well-known composition by Dizzy Gillespie, featuring a great drum solo.

We move to a musician who had a great streak of albums with New Jazz in 1960, albeit those were some of his last activities as a performing musician. Gigi Gryce was born in Florida in 1925 and studied at Boston Conservatory, a period when he split his time between classical music studies and jazz performance. After graduating with a degree in composition in 1952, Gryce relocated to New York City where he became a popular alto saxophone player. His recording credits in the 1950s include, among others, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Mal Waldron, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk. After a number of albums as a co-leader, in 1960 he led three recording sessions with New Jazz for the albums Saying Somethin’!, The Hap’nin’s and The Rat Race Blues. Sadly for the jazz world shortly after that he left the music scene and pursued a teaching career.

In 1960 Gryce led a steady quintet that included pianist Richard Wyands, who years later reflected on that group: “I met Gigi Gryce, and he was organizing a band along with Reggie Workman, Richard Williams and Mickey Roker.  We rehearsed and we worked at the old Five Spot, different places in Brooklyn, made about three dates on Prestige and one on Mercury — so I made four LPs with Gigi. It was a happy group.  Extremely happy.  I’d never been in a group like that before ever, anywhere, where everything was just so happy and musical. Everybody got along with each other, there was no arguing and fighting, no egos.  One of the best groups I ever worked with.  Then Gigi disappeared from the scene and we were all on our own.”

A Downbeat review of one of the albums stated: “By voicing the piano with the horns, Gryce gets a group sound that gives the illusion of there being more than five men on the date. And the chord voicings are not haphazard but serve definite purposes and effects. In a word, this is a group.”

Gigi Gryce commented on the nature of that group in one of the albums liner notes: “These boys had the sound and feeling I was looking for. The group became a unit, one that is highly professional and has musical integrity. I think this is more important than looking for name value. A group made up of ‘names’ doesn’t necessarily mean they will work well together.”

The 1960 Downbeat review also commented on trumpeter Richard Williams: “Williams has shown a great ability to strike intense sparks at fast tempos. He brings a searing drive to Leila’s Blues, charging rampantly though his own solo and urging Gryce in his solo with crackling, well-placed fills.”

Gigi Gryce – alto saxophone

Richard Williams – trumpet

Richard Wyands – piano

Reggie Workman – bass

Mickey Roker – drums

We dedicate the rest of the article to one of my favorite artists in jazz history, who had a very productive year in 1960, recording six albums for New Jazz as a leader and collaborator. We are talking about Eric Dolphy, who came to his own as a recording artist that year and it all started with New Jazz.

Dolphy moved to New York after he left Chico Hamilton’s band in December 1959. With that band he got his first recognition after performing at the Newport jazz festival in 1958, documented in the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Upon his arrival in New York he quickly became active in Charles Mingus’ quartet. He also played informally with John Coltrane, the two having met back in 1954 in Los Angeles, Dolphy’s home town. His good friend Freddie Hubbard remembers: “Trane used to come out from Manhattan to practice with Eric. Trane loved him.”

On April 1, 1960 Eric Dolphy recorded his debut album as a leader with a great ensemble that included Freddie Hubbard, who recalled the session: “It was difficult to play the heads with Eric. That music was a first for me, and I think I sounded a little out of place. I was still trying to play melodic, and with that music, it wasn’t necessarily the object.” The resulting album was Outward Bound.

The album was produced by Esmond Edwards and it features a wonderful cover painting by Richard “Prophet” Jennings. His drawings for the Dolphy albums Out There and Outward Bound looked nothing like any other jazz album cover from that period. From the excellent article “American Jazz Album Covers in the 1950s and 1960s” by Victor Margolin: “Jennings created a mysterious atmosphere to represent Dolphy’s ‘free jazz’ style. Most significant about the covers is that they represented the music according to the musicians’ vision rather than management’s sense of what would suit the marketplace. The Dolphy covers were also among the earliest examples of designs by black artists to illustrate the music of black musicians.”

Eric Dolphy – flute, bass clarinet, alto saxophone

Freddie Hubbard – trumpet

Jaki Byard – piano

George Tucker – bass

Roy Haynes – drums

Here is G.W., the album’s opening tune. Dolphy wrote the piece in 1957 as a tribute to trumpeter and band leader Gerald Wilson, who was a big influence on Dolphy early in his career: “I was greatly helped by Gerald Wilson. Here is a man who has been making the modern sounds since the war years. He had a band in 1944 that would still be considered modern today.”

A Downbeat review of the album was quite favorable: “Above all else, his playing and writing have life. Sometimes sounding as if it is boiling with rage, Dolphy’s music is filled with sharp, jagged lines that lift the listener as they spiral to peak after peak of raw emotional expression. The impact of his work is in his startling display of these emotions. I know of no word that would neatly categorize the emotional content of Dolphy’s work, but it would have to encompass fury, frustration, and all the other twisting emotions.”

The following month Eric Dolphy participated in another session for New Jazz, this time as sideman on an Oliver Nelson date that resulted in the album Screamin’ The Blues. Nat Hentoff wrote in the liner notes: “Eric Dolphy, along with Ornette Coleman, the most venturesome and original young alto saxophonist in jazz. He plays with intermittingly fierce motion and often daring imagination.”

Many jazz writers in 1960 compared Dolphy to Ornette Coleman. The two first met in 1954, a period of which Dolphy talked about: “I had heard about Ornette and when I heard him play, he asked me if I liked his pieces and I said I thought they sounded good. When he said that if someone played a chord, he heard another chord, superimposed on that one, I knew what he was talking about because I had been thinking the same things.”

L to R: Oliver Nelson, Richard Wyands, Roy Haynes, Eric Dolphy, Richard Williams, George Duvivier

Another Downbeat review left you none the wiser: “It’s possible to draw a parallel between Dolphy and Ornette Coleman—similar harmonic conceptions being the most cogent—but to me, Dolphy’s message is the more coherent, and his is the greater talent. Drawing parallels, however, can get out of hand; in the end, the artist must be judged on his own work, though comparisons and contrasts play an important role in shaping any judgment.”

A year after the album was recorded, Leonard Feather played a tune from it to West-Coast trumpet player Shorty Rogers in a blindfold test. This is what the observant musician said about this music, which he never heard before: “This may have been a group that was assembled just for the date, but in spite of that, everyone had an insight into each other’s work, not just a thrown-together-into-the-studio feeling. Four star.”

Oliver Nelson – tenor saxophone, alto saxophone

Eric Dolphy – bass clarinet, alto saxophone

Richard Williams – trumpet

Richard Wyands – piano

George Duvivier – bass

Roy Haynes – drums

Dolphy’s next session for New Jazz in 1960 was in June, when he was paired with Ken McIntyre to lead a quintet session, resulting in the album Looking Ahead. McIntyre recalls his first association with Eric Dolphy: “Early in 1960, I was fortunate enough to meet and subsequently play with Eric. I had heard him on record with the Chico Hamilton group and was impressed with his mastery of instruments – alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet. Our first meeting was very pleasant because Eric was an enjoyable person.”

It was Esmond Edwards who suggested to Ken McIntyre a recording date with Eric Dolphy. New Jazz was pushing Dolphy hard and trying to expose him to audiences through recordings with a variety of artists, some of them more adventurous than others. For McIntyre the session was quite intimidating due to the talent power demonstrated by Dolphy and the rest of the quintet: “I could not at times help feeling a bit left out of all the qualitative nuances that I felt while Eric and the rhythm section were playing. In retrospect, this was quite natural: they had the New York feel for music, and they had played together before. I was in fact an outsider. The musicians did not treat me that way, but I was fully aware that, as a newcomer from Boston, I had not previously had the opportunity to work with any New York musicians of such high caliber.”

A Downbeat review from 1960 did not do this fantastic album justice and gave it only 2.5 stars, with this opening statement: “Don’t dare listen to this album in complacent mood or when headache hints; it will shatter your complacency and or sharpen the headache. Better lend an ear when the need to rebel and to shake your fist at the stars nags to the point of action. This album, in short, is another dose — almost a purgative — of jazz rebellion.”

Ken McIntyre – alto saxophone, flute

Eric Dolphy – alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute

Walter Bishop Jr. – piano

Sam Jones – bass

Art Taylor – drums

In august 1960 Eric Dolphy was teamed again, this time for a less typical combination in a Latin jazz style. The liner notes by Joe Goldberg open up by humorously describing what The Latin Jazz Quintet are not: “A group with a name like that has several choices available to it. If it consists, as this group does, of vibes, piano, bass, drums and conga, it could allow itself to become just another one of the pale imitations of the MJQ, with all members pointing toward the conga drummer in order to say, “See? We’re different.”  Or, at the other extreme, it could be just another dance-hall group that plays cha-chas and merengues, with perhaps a blues every other set to justify the middle part of the name, and concerns itself with no more vexing artistic problems than how to get the vibes to the date in Long Island.”

Got to love those old jazz album liner notes. They continue with a focus on the guest musician here, Eric Dolphy: “Eric, who seems to have either an alto, a flute, a bass clarinet or a pipe in his mouth at all times, is the latest in a line that includes Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman – a line that seems to indicate that the major steps forward in improvisation have been and will be made on the saxophone.”

While the music here is not what you would expect from an Eric Dolphy album, it is still quite interesting, and his solos are great as usual.

Eric Dolphy – alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet

Juan Amalbert – congas

Gene Casey – piano

Charlie Simons – vibraphone

Bill Ellington – bass

Manny Ramos – drums, timbales

In August 1960 Eric Dolphy recorded his second album as a leader for New Jazz. Esmond Edwards recalls that the sessions with Dolphy were very professional, requiring very few takes to nail down the final performances. He was unaware of Dolphy’s ability to play multiple instruments when he signed him, and was pleasantly surprised during his first recording session with Dolphy: “When he pulled out his bass clarinet, Rudy Van Gelder and I did a double take. It was phenomenal. That’s some of my favorite playing of his, on the bass clarinet. I love that sound.” Adding more color to how he worked with Dolphy, Edwards said: “Some artists are so unique in their abilities that they just do what they do. If you want to record them, you record them. You take them as they are.”

The album cover features one more unique painting by Richard “Prophet” Jennings.

For this album Dolphy assembled an ensemble similar in instrumentation to that of Chico Hamilton minus the guitar. The piano-less quartet is probably the most ‘out there’ (ha!) recording in this review, including some interesting forms as bar divisions go, such as the title track in AABA form, subdivided 7-7-9-7. The liner notes start with a warning: “It would be best to acknowledge, right at the outset, that this is not the most easily grasped jazz album you are ever likely to hear.”

However in another section of the liner notes, Eric Dolphy reveals himself as a very open minded person musically. Writer Joe Goldberg: “I asked him, thinking of rock ‘n’ roll as I did so, if he really believed all music is good. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘All music has its own message. Music is just like people and places and things. Everything has a message for someone.’“

Eric Dolphy — alto saxophone, bass clarinet, B-flat clarinet, flute

Ron Carter — cello

George Duvivier — bass

Roy Haynes — drums

Here is the title track, featuring a wonderful cello solo by Ron Carter:

Last album for this review, a result of a very productive recording day for Eric Dolphy. Earlier that day, December 21, 1960, Dolphy participated in the recording of Ornette Coleman’s Double Quartet – Free Jazz for Atlantic Records (to be covered in the next article in this series about jazz on Atlantic Records in 1960).

Later that day Dolphy joined young trumpeter Booker Little at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio to record the album Far Cry. No rehearsal took place before the session, spare a quick discussion prior to the day of recording to talk through the tunes they planned to play.

Nat Hentoff writes in the original sleeve notes: “A friend once asked Eric Dolphy during a period when work was exceptionally scarce whether Eric would ever consider another way of living outside the jazz life. Eric looked at his questioner in amazement. ‘I’ll never leave jazz,’ Eric finally answered. ‘I’ve put too much of myself into jazz already, and I’m still trying to dig in deeper. Besides, in what other field could I get so complete a scope for self-expression? To me, jazz is like part of living, like walking down the street.’”

Eric Dolphy explained the meaning of the album title: “One of the title’s meanings is that it’s a far cry from the impact Bird had when he was alive and his position now. I wrote this to show that I haven’t forgotten him or what he’s meant to me. But the song also says that as great as he was, he was a far cry from what he could have been. And, finally, it says that I’m a far cry from being able to say all I want to in jazz.”

When sax player Sonny Stitt heard this album he said: “No, I don’t like that record. I don’t even want to hear it. That ain’t pleasant to my ears, man!” To each his own. This album is very pleasant to my ears.

Eric Dolphy – flute

Booker Little – trumpet

Jaki Byard – piano

Ron Carter – bass

Roy Haynes – drums

Read more about jazz recorded in 1960 on other labels:

Categories: A Year in Music

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2 replies »

  1. Hey, there. As I commented on another post earlier this year, your blog was a great discovery I made, and this post is a fine example of why it is so. Thank you very much for writing so passionately. Begin a Brazilian, I’d love to read what you’d have to say about Stan Getz’s The Bossa Nova Albums box. Finally, I spotted two typos on this article, both on the same paragraph: when you write about Outward Bound, it’s written “He also played __infromally__ with John Coltrane” and then “used to __com__ out from Manhattan”

    • Thank you again for your feedback, and it is great to see that you are also interested in jazz. I will get to the Getz bossa nova albums a little later in the 1960s. However I prefer and love Brazilian music from many artists such as Toquinho with Vinicious De Moraes, Ellis Regina, Mariah Bethania, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque and many others. There was also a period in Brazilian music late 60/early 70s in which the traditional side was influencing rock artists that I love. I feature Brazilian artists from time time in my daily posts on FB. And thanks for the typo corrections, article updated.

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