Norman Granz Jam Session No. 6

It behoves me to spend most of this evening at a postgraduate Open Evening here at Maynooth University so I thought I’d take a little tea break and post a bit of Jazz.

This recording, made in 1954, is from one of the famous `All-Star’ jam sessions organized by impresario Norman Granz. These are fascinating for jazz fans because they provide a rare opportunity to hear extended solos from great musicians, not confined to the usual three-minute 78rpm records of the period. This one is almost half an hour long altogether, and was originally issued in two parts (on either side of an LP record) so there’s a rather clumsy edit half way through. There are also a few jumps on the record, but I don’t think they spoil this classic too much.

Norman Granz liked to select contrasting musicians for these spontaneous recordings and this line-up was clearly intended to juxtapose modernist trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie with his boyhood inspiration Roy Eldridge. It is indeed fascinating to hear them play one after the other, but the star of this show for me is the great clarinettist Buddy De Franco whose solo is absolutely superb – few Jazz clarinettists are able to match his control in the upper register. The other musicians clearly enjoy his solo too; I’m pretty sure that it’s Dizzy Gillespie you can hear delivering the encouraging shouts as De Franco gets into full flood.

The soloists (in order) are: Flip Phillips (tenor sax); Bill Harris (trombone); Buddy De Franco (clarinet); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); and Roy Eldridge (trumpet). The other musicians providing rhythm accompaniment are Ray Brown (bass) and Louie Bellson (drums). That’s not a bad band is it?

The tune played here is the swing era standard Stomping at the Savoy which is a good choice for this kind of jam session because (a) everyone knows it (b) the melody is quite simple, and (c) it has interesting chords for the musicians to improvise over. It is in standard 32-bar AABA format with a relatively simple A section (Db6, Ab9, Db6, Ddim, Ebm7, Ab7, Db, Db) but has a B section (bridge) with considerable chromatic embellishment (Gb9/G9, Gb9, B13/F#m6, B13, E9/F9, E9, A13, Ab9b); these are assuming that it is played in Db. It’s fascinating to hear how each of the soloists navigates the middle eight on this record.

Stomping at the Savoy is usually played a bit faster than it is here, but I like this beautifully relaxed and comfortably swinging tempo.

UPDATE: By an amazing coincidence*, Part 1 of this session was played by Bernard Clarke last night on The Blue of the Night (at about 10.30).

*It’s not a complete coincidence, as we had an exchange on Twitter about it a while ago and he said he would try to play it sometime – it was nevertheless a surprise that he played it on exactly the same day as I posted this!

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3 Responses to “Norman Granz Jam Session No. 6”

  1. “Louie Bellson (drums)”

    I think that Louie Bellson was the first drummer to use two bass drums. The first rock musicians to do so were probably Keith Moon and Ginger Baker (who had a jazz background), though perhaps Moon just used one to mount toms. It has since become a staple of hard-rock and heavy-metal music, though Nick Mason of Pink Floyd was also a double-bass user (having been inspired by Baker) as is Elton John’s long-time drummer Nigel Olsson (always with gloves and headphones). The idea is to play faster by playing alternately with both feet. To this end, many drummers today have just one bass drum but two pedals. Occasionally, one sees two bass drums of different sizes, as with Frank Beard of ZZ Top (at some points in time). (Ironically, he is the one without the beard.) Interestingly, the heavy-metal band, Iron Maiden, has had two drummers but neither has used two bass drums (nor, apart from rare exceptions, double bass-drum pedals). However, these guys can probably play faster with one foot than many drummers with two.

    • Bellson was not only musically progressive; his first wife was Pearl Bailey; mixed-raced marriages were not common in the States in the 1950s (perhaps why they married in London). They were married for 38 years, until Bailey died. (They had known each other for four days when they were married.) Having been the only white person in Duke Ellington’s band, Bellson (real name: Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni ) probably knew a thing or two about being a minority. 😐 Interestingly, his second wife, Francine, was also black. She was also a physicist trained at Harvard and MIT. At least at the time she was at university, possibly even more of a minority than being a white dude in Duke Ellington’s band. 😐

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