A Twist Of Doc: “Where Is The Love?”

October 12, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

Los Angeles, CA.  Okay, so I’ve been a professional music journalist for about 6 years now. I’ve witnessed quite a lot of change in that time in dealing with publicists and well, not all of it has been good.

It’s always been cool to poo-poo the press. Somehow many musicians and artists alike see us as being “The Man” or representing the establishment and not being able to “get the artist.” Recently I even heard the term “jazz police,” which refers to a circle of mostly New York based jazz critics that have control over who becomes big and who doesn’t. Only paranoid, bitter jazz musicians could dream up something so preposterous.

If only we had that power or any power at all for that matter in 2014.

When I first started writing for Don Heckman and The International Review Of Music, the publicists at live venues would adhere to any requests that I would make. I never asked for much, simply a set list and the list of any and all band members of an act that didn’t have that info posted or updated anywhere on the internet. Sometimes I’d ask the artist in person, through Facebook, or their website, and they were just thrilled to help out.

Now all of that has changed. My audience has grown all over the world, but I’ve got to ask you publicists: Where is the love? Even some of the same festivals that I starting covering 6 years ago are now less than helpful and even less than friendly. I won’t name names because they might sick their goons on me and I try to live a safe, goon free life.

With that said, let’s agree that we need each other and yes, I appreciate that plus one so I can bring my girlfriend to the shows. This also goes for you labels out there. It wouldn’t hurt some of you to send me your new releases before the actual release date now would it? Maybe for a blurb or two, remember? Again, I said some of you. Many of you get them to me early and even enclose a nice letter and plenty of info on the CD. But let’s all try a little harder to lift each other up.

Yes, I may sound like an overly optimistic dreamer in believing that this world can change. But that’s just my nature. I’ll hold out for that old time love as long as I can.


A Twist of Doc: “Everything Is On The One”

July 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Lately I’ve been harkening back to a time in my hazy youth in which rock n’ roll seemed too square and being a jazz musician felt unattainable. I was a frustrated self-taught blues guitar player in his teens in search of something else.

As much as I worshipped the blues, by the time I was 13 the image, true attitude, sound, and feel of greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Son House had all but vanished.

There were still many blues legends with a lot to offer but for the most part blues had morphed almost completely into blues-rock. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the leader of the pack and he had thousands of clones. Vaughan passed away in 1990 but today it’s still the same. Blues clubs and radio stations are still flooded by men and women who all dress like a discount combo of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan on layaway. And they all fall back on the same overindulgent stock blues licks.

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

I saw the writing on the wall back at the age of 13. Once again the rock establishment was co-opting the blues for a white audience, as had been done in the ‘60s and I didn’t approve or want to go along.

I had always been a geeky wallflower who had sat on the floor at school dances or avoided them altogether. I wasn’t going to ditch the blues or give up trying to play jazz, but I was in search of a more primal sound that could get to the core of all contemporary musical genres and didn’t take it self too seriously. I found what I was looking for in funk.

The very first bassist I played with in high school turned me onto George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. I was already deeply into the funk of Sly And The Family Stone and James Brown so this was the logical next step.

My first reaction was laughter. Hearing Parliament’s “The Mothership Connection” felt like the first time I had ever been truly stoned. Granted I probably was very stoned at the time. It was musically sophisticated with slick, jazz-inspired horn arrangements by Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley (formerly of James Brown’s band), thumping baselines by ex-James brown protégé Bootsy Collins, and classically infused psychedelic keyboard work by Bernie Worrell. The most shocking element was George Clinton or “Dr. Funkenstein” rapping (more than a decade before rap music was around) over the music using street slang and profanity in an over the top, super silly fashion.

There was also the meteoric guitar work of P-Funk guitarists Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, Mike Hampton, and Dewayne “Blackbyrd” Mcknight which cemented George Clinton’s concept of “organized chaos” and is still a huge influence on my playing today.

I also bought and taught myself electric bass after hearing the albums Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby, and Larry Graham’s slapping on Graham Central Station’s “The Jam.”

James Brown

James Brown

When it came to listening to funk music – whether it was James Brown, Sly Stone, or P-Funk — I felt I had to sneak off somewhere to do it, like I did with comedy albums by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. It wasn’t just the language; it was the attitude which made rock music seem like the squarest music in the galaxy. There was this delightful nastiness mixed with a true freedom to all of it and I started collecting funk records by the stack full. From James Brown, Sly Stone, all incarnations of P-Funk and Bootsy Collins, to The Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, Brick, and Earth, Wind And Fire, I had to have it all. Suddenly I wasn’t too shy too dance and I was out there at funk concerts and parties shaking my ass and making a fool out of myself but not giving a shit. That’s freedom. That’s funk.

Of course my steady diet of marijuana and psychedelic drugs helped aid this drastic change and allowed me to see all things as being sublimely funky. My guitar playing became funkier and more focused on that “one” beat that is the spiritual core of funk music. James Brown emphasized the “one” and P-Funk took it to new and wonderfully ridiculous heights. The “one” is where all musicians meet up and are in sync with the universe.

Sly Stone

Sly Stone

Although funk remains as spiritually relevant with young music lovers and musicians today in a way similar to reggae, the music’s greatest pioneers and practitioners have constantly been dismissed as novelty acts by the mainly white controlled music industry and what’s left of it. Times have been hard for Sly Stone and George Clinton over the past few decades.

I’ve never truly understood why. Sly Stone was as talented, inventive, and revolutionary as all four Beatles combined. Sly not only influenced hundreds of funk and rock bands, he also changed the shape of jazz forever. Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters would not exist without Sly. Miles Davis worshiped Sly and his music was forever changed by Sly’s influence.

Why is it that Sly Stone lives in a mobile home today? Why is George Clinton having to fight for the rights to his own music but still sells out concerts all over the world? The white rock bands of the ‘70s did as much drugs (if not more) as any of the funk legends and they’re still able to get record deals. The rock machine can stay behind and support the nostalgia of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young, or even The Rolling Stones no matter what trouble these artists have gotten into over the years or the dips in their record sales.

I can’t help but think that if these artists were black, they’d know how it feels to be relegated to novelty act status by main stream media and have to fight to keep what they created. Keith Richards can dress and act as crazy as he wants and there aren’t the same consequences as there have been with Sly Stone or George Clinton. It doesn’t make any sense.

With all that said and as overtly un-funky as the music business has always been, there are the fans. Since my introduction to funk back in my teens, I’ve learned that there are no fans like funk fans or “funkateers.” The love is felt all over the world by people of all ages. We ex-“Psychedelic wallflowers” keep the music fresh. Not to mention the millions of hip-hop and rap artists who have sampled funk records since day one and continue to do so.

George_Clinton

George_Clinton

Tuesday, July 22nd was the 73rd Birthday of George Clinton. I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Funkenstein in the studio over 23 years ago and we spoke many times during the ’90’s at airports or backstage as he and The P-Funk All- Stars toured constantly going “all around the world for the funk.” They’re still out there touring right now. So, today I thank you, Dr. Funkenstein, for freeing my mind and ass collectively and a very funktacular Happy Birthday. Never quit. Keep on funkin’, we need it now more than ever. I also thank all current and past members of P-Funk, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Junie Morrison , and Sly And The Family Stone, Larry Graham, James Brown, and the list goes on.

The record industry may be dying out, old, corny, and not able to dance, but thanks to you, Dr. Funkenstein, everything is still on the one.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: June 19 – 22

June 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

With Summer arriving in all its glory, I thought it would be helpful to concentrate the Picks for this long, mid-June weekend on the rich array of music to be heard here in the Southland.

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

- June 19. (Thurs.) Sally Kellerman. Sally’s back, and that’s great news for all fans of irresistible singing. Better known to many as “Hot Lips” from her role in the film version of Mash, Sal is a vocalist who brings vivid, story-telling qualities to every song. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of one of her recent Los Angeles performances. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Multi-instrumentalist Miller, moving smoothly from bass clarinet, brings a sparkling array of jazz inventiveness to everything he plays. His current group includes saxophonist Alex Han, trumpeter Lee Hogans, keyboardist Brett Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and drummer Ronald Burneer, Jr. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

John Chiodini

John Chiodini

- June 20, (Fri,) The Denny Seiwell Trio. Drummer Seiwell’s resume includes gigs with an array of world class bands in genres of every style. This time he leads his own stellar group, featuring John Chiodini, guitar and Joe Bagg, keyboards. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- June 20. (Fri.) Chuck Manning and Steve Huffsteter. Two of the Southland’s most inventive jazz horn players, saxophonist Manning and trumpeter Huffsteter wrap their improvisational skills around every tune, stimulating each other’s creative imaginations. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) The John La Barbera Big Band. La Barbera’s Big Band hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves, and here’s a chance to see them in action in Sherman Oaks, on the broad stage of Jazz at the Cap.  (818) 990-2001.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Here’s a rare, and not to be missed, display of jazz vocalese in the competent musical hands and soaring voices of this trio of world class singers. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 21. (Sat.) The Grand Reopening of the Alex Theatre.  Emmy and Tony award winning performer Martin Short joins Matt Catingub and the Glendale Pops Orchestra for a spectacular evening of song, dance, comedy and pure entertainment.  The Alex Theatre.  (818) 243-2611.

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

- June 21. (Sat.) Lee Hartley & the Les McCann All-Star Band. The appealing vocal team of Hartley and McCann are great on their own, and even better when their surrounded by the superb musical backing of guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Barney McClure, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Enzo Tedesco. Jazz at the Rad.  (310) 216-5861.

- June 21. (Sat.) “Nutty.” Jazz for Jetsetters. This always-intriguing jazz octet applies a broad stylistic array of jazz rhythms and styles to their interpretations of pop and rock classics. If you loved the ’60s, dopn’t miss these guys. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 21. (Sat.) Opening Night at the Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl kicks off a spectacular Summer season with the induction of Kristin Chenoweth, The Go-Go’s and Pink Martini into the . The celebration will climax with a spectacular fireworks display.  Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (323) 850-2000.

 

 

 


Q&A: Doc Wendell – A Twist Of Misery

May 26, 2014

 

By Devon Wendell

There has been quite a bit of hype for multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and sardonic poet Doc Wendell over the last decade. As a teen in New York City, Wendell worked in the studio with Donald Fagen and Steely Dan on their “comeback” album Two Against Nature. The late John Lee Hooker nicknamed Wendell “Doc” when he was 13 years old. Doc also got to jam, study, and hang with some of the biggest names in the blues such as Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy, and Johnny Johnson, playing at various night clubs around the tri-state area before he could legally drink.

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

Since moving to Los Angeles in late 2008, Doc has recorded with such rock n’ roll and R&B luminaries as Bonnie Pointer and Marty Grebb. Now Doc is writing the lyrics and music for what he designates as his first “solo” album which he has titled The Big Bimbo On The Map which he plans on releasing sometime in 2016.  Recently I had the misfortune of meeting up with the sarcastic and dismissive Doc Wendell for a Q&A in a small, dingy, smoked filled recording studio in Hollywood. When I arrived, Doc was sitting on a filthy gray couch, chain smoking into a sea shell ash  tray, downing Coca-colas, all while thumbing through Mark Voelpel’s book Charlie Parker For Guitar.

* * * * * * * *

Devon Wendell: Hello Doc. It looks like I’m interrupting you. I write for Don Heckman and had…

Doc Wendell: (Interrupting) Oh you, Don Heckman’s lackey. Where’s Don? He’s got the cool byline.

Devon Wendell: I’m here so you’re just going to have to get used to it.

Doc Wendell: Yeah, I know your angle. You think you’re some edgy New York writer who lives in LA now and hates it…How cliché. You and your anal retentive details on every review, Jesus Christ, Give the readers a fucking break already.

Devon Wendell: At least it’s obvious that you’ve read my work.

Doc Wendell: Unfortunately. You are a spineless publicity whore. You’ve sent every goddamn thing you’ve written to my publicist and even to my personal email address. Even I get bored sometimes.

Devon Wendell: With what? You’re redundant style of blues styled rock, funk, and fake
jazz?

Doc Wendell: Absolutely. If I don’t have the power to bore myself who will? Oh yes you  of course.

Devon Wendell: Let’s talk more about the fake jazz thing. You claim to be a jazz historian and enthusiast like myself but all I hear in your guitar, harmonica, and bass playing are over-indulgent pentatonic scales and patterns and overly pretentious lyrics.  Your lyrics on “Vanishing Angel” from John M. King’s Cinder’s Still Burnin’ from 2011 are self effacing at first but then trail off into nonsense.

Doc Wendell: Thank you; that’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. What does “nonsense” mean exactly in 2014? Life is so absurd that it’s like living in some awful Jodorowsky film that never fucking ends. Nonsense has more meaning than anything else at the moment, certainly more than this pitiful interview.

Devon Wendell: If that’s true Sir “Doc”, than you’ve achieved a lot in your career. So you’ve gone from running errands for Donald Fagen to what? Someday releasing your first solo album? When? And, will anyone care by 2016?

Doc Wendell: You’re assuming that someone cares now or ever did and that I give a shit if they care or not. I haven’t lived in this town that long.

Devon Wendell: Touche Doc. I certainly don’t care.

Doc Wendell: Really? Great, want to run my fan club? Maybe be my new manager? The current guy Doghouse Reilly is on his way out so there’s an opening for you.

Devon Wendell: I’d rather have oral surgery from my hind quarters.

Doc Wendell: I can arrange that. I’ll call some of the boys back in Brooklyn.

Devon Wendell: Oh yes, Mr. “New York” has threatened me.

Doc Wendell: More like a promise. You tell me; how did you get Buddy Guy, Gregory Porter, Nathan East, and all of those great players to sit through your pedestrian, almost Rolling Stone Magazine stupid questions?

Devon Wendell: You have the audacity to compare me to a dimwitted, baby boom era obsessed, musically brain dead Rolling Stone Magazine writer? You know what? Take your fake blues tough guy act and go fuck yourself. You play too many damn notes that go nowhere anyway.  This interview is over, Doc.

Doc Wendell: Finally you’ve gotten interesting in this interview and you want to call it quits? This is getting good. What else you got for me laddie buck? (Stomps out his cigarette butt into the shell).

Devon Wendell: Yeah, give me a call when you actually learn to play real jazz. Goodnight Doc.

Doc Wendell: Goodnight. That was great. I mean it. Best interview yet.

Devon Wendell: More like your first interview and probably your last.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 

 


Bye Bye Bird From Hollywood: The 59th Anniversary of the Death Of Charlie Parker

March 11, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When listening to “Dizzy Atmosphere” recorded live on September 29th, 1947, with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall, it’s hard to believe that tomorrow, March 12th, Bird will have been dead 59 years. In that solo alone, Bird captured the future, present, and the entire history of jazz in a frenetically beautiful but blatantly violent and brutal manner.

It’s those kinds of contrasts that made Bird so great. And it can be found at any point of his career.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

On recordings like “Koko” and the famous alto break on “A Night In Tunisia,” Bird launched us into the stratosphere like a rocket on fire. And on ballads like “Embraceable You” and “Meandering,” he took us plunging down deep into frozen arctic waters like a falling meteor from space. At times he defied nature and at other moments he altered it with a supernatural ease and dexterity.

Charlie “Bird” Parker died almost 20 years before I was born and before I go any further, I’d like to state that I don’t care how much junk he shot, or how much booze he drank. None of that is my business and Bird’s music is larger than all of that. I can only fixate on the sound and the unfettered energy that it gives me. Every accented phrase, crescendo, substitute chord, passing tone, and “altered” melody line or “head” follows me throughout every nuance of my life.

I first heard Bird’s music in grade school on a compilation cassette from Japan, featuring a mix of Bird’s Verve, Dial, and Savoy recordings. “Leap Frog” was the first track on the tape and the sound of his alto sax was like a laser beam. I saw thousands of colors not yet named by man, dancing in my head. I heard the blues from deep inside the dank, all-night bars in Kansas City with its patrons of prostitutes, pimps, and people trying hard to avoid the nightmares of all night, home bound isolation. Bird painted so many pictures, so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the imagery and sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. The boundless history of music is all there too, from Bartak, Stravinsky, and Shoenberg to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Johnny Hodges.

Bird’s ghost is on the move too. Not in Kansas City and certainly not in Los Angeles. It’s in New York City. Bird owned the spirit of New York when he lived there like no other artist in history. I’ve felt his sinister duplicitous charm while walking through Alphabet City.

Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach

One time in a tepid state of depression, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment sipping chamomile tea and reading Ibsen’s The Wild Duck Rosmersholm, unable to pry myself out of my beat up old arm chair. Suddenly I heard “Yardbird Suite” in my head and I felt invigorated for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I was able to get up and at least make myself a good dinner. I grabbed a copy of Bird’s Dial recordings and played “Yardbird Suite” over and over as I made a plate of spaghetti and a tossed salad for one. It may be the anniversary of Bird’s death, but all I can feel is the sheer vitality in that composition as well as on pieces like “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Donna Lee” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”

After being baptized by Bird’s music I soon discovered Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billy Eckstine, Tadd Dameron, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane to name just a few. For a while, I was dismissive of post-Parker jazz (I hate the word “be-bop”) because I felt that he and many of his disciples had taken the music as far as it could go, especially around the time of his death. I still often wonder if that is the case as I still hear Bird’s influence all around me on every instrument.

Well, Bye Bye Bird from Hollywood. I’m glad you made it home, far away from this place. Maybe we’ll meet up someday on the old Avenue B.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: The Dangers Of Writing About Jazz

February 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

In my head I can hear Billie Holiday singing “There Is Music Everywhere.” She sang it with such glee as opposed to her better known and more tortured melancholy recordings. And she was right. It’s all around us at any time.

Devon Wendell

Devon Wendell

Since I became a music journalist several years ago, I’ve tried to write about it all, or most of what has surrounded me and crossed my path. Writing about rock n’ roll, folk, blues, and all forms of music that fits into the beloved boom era- nostalgia soundtrack seems to be the safest route when writing about music, especially today, so I’ve learned. I’ve written pieces on Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Richie Havens and everyone rejoiced.

Whenever “Purple Haze,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” or “Hey Jude” has been mentioned with “positive vibes” or enthusiasm (a better choice of wording), I got a lot of readers and no hate mail.

Jazz, on the other hand is a different story. There’s danger and risk involved in writing about jazz just as there is danger and risk in playing the music.

The jazz community seems to love my jazz pieces, especially the musicians and fellow jazz writers. A lot of them can tell I’m a musician writing from a musician’s perspective.

But for some reason unknown to me, I’ve gotten more than a fair share of bitterness, disdain and even bullying threats from a few writers. It seems to come from those writers obsessed with the “counter culture” rock music of the ‘60s. I’d like to make it crystal clear that I love good rock n’ roll. Ike And Tina Turner, Jackie Breston, early Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, these artists have been an integral part of my being and musicianship. There have been times in which I’ve criticized the rock ‘n’ roll industry and its dominating power over all genres of music and how dismissive they can be towards jazz and blues unless those genres give into some of the not so clever clichés of rock music to please some of the not so cultured rock fans.

The fact that Led Zeppelin has billions of dollars paid to the band for their versions of songs written by other artists, many of whom died in poverty, also irks me.  But this has more to do with dishonest business practices than the music. And let’s face it, those running The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame could use a few courses in music history. John Coltrane is not rock and Muddy Waters was great in his own right, regardless of who he has influenced in the rock n’ roll world. I don’t subscribe to that precious brand of narcissism.

My criticisms have been misconstrued by a clannish bunch of old hippies who do anything but practice “peace and love.” I didn’t have images of flower children in my head when one of these writers verbally harassed me for not writing the ten thousand and third article on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in America. This guy couldn’t help but throw how much money he got for his piece and how little I make.

That week I chose to write an educational piece on the jazz tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley instead. I have nothing against the Beatles but I wanted to write about Hank Mobley. Too many have asked “Who is Hank Mobley?” No one has asked me who The Beatles are. They need more publicity like Jay-Z or Beyonce need it. Come on people! The media had already been overly saturated with Beatles articles and memorabilia, making the actual event seem Warholian in its abundance of repetitive images, robbing it of any true meaning and dignity.

After receiving several emails of; “You think you’re so smart don’t you asshole snob?” and “Only a handful of folks give a shit about jazz!” “jazz is dead, long live rock!” and “We changed the world back then man! Write about The Doors!” I knew it was time to break all contact with these psychopaths stuck in a time warp. They’re gone for now and I can breathe easier.

The other danger of jazz writing is a good kind. I remember reviewing Kenny Burrell at Catalina’s in Hollywood. After I wrote my review, the late Mike Melvoin (who was on piano that night) blasted me for not noticing that he had quoted Horace Silver’s “Room 608” during one of his solos. I loved it because although he was a little pissed off, his love of the music came through in his comments. He knew I was younger than a lot of jazz writers and wanted to make sure I really listened to every nuance in a performance. I was upset with myself for missing the damn quote! This also meant he was reading my work and paying attention.

I like that sense of risk which keeps me on my toes. That’s positive criticism, which I can work with. As for the other kind, I’m glad to say it’s quieted down for now and I feel for those rock writers who keep their musical worlds so small and follow the herd for a quick buck. The anger has passed, so there’s been some growth.

So I’ll just keep doing what I do and write not only about jazz, but rock, cumbia, maybe some hip-hop, even klezmer music if the mood should strike me. And I’ll enjoy and learn from the risks. “There Is Music Everywhere.”  Indeed.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: Hank Mobley – The Unsung Hero Of Bop.

February 7, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For tenor sax players, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were a time for hard blowing, fitting in as many notes as possible within a few bars, and trying to break free from familiar patterns.

Sonny Rollins was the reigning king of articulation and might on tenor sax until Coltrane’s second stay with Miles. Although his was more of a cult-like following at the time, and there were plenty of people who didn’t like what he was playing, Coltrane would change the direction of the instrument forever. Rollins was still loved and began to play even harder and faster as a result of Coltrane’s impact on jazz.

Rollins, Coltrane and Johnny Griffin were considered to be the fastest tenor men in the game. Although these men were genius players and writers, many other fantastic contributors were left in the shadows. It’s always been difficult for music journalists and the media to pay attention to more than a few groundbreaking artists at once.

Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley

One such artist who never seemed to get his fair due during his time was Hank Mobley, who died in 1986 at 55. Mobley’s round tone and nimble, melodic blues based phrasing helped define the entire hard-bop genre.

Not only was Mobley a member of the original Jazz Messengers led by Horace Silver, he recorded and composed some of the most original, hard swinging compositions in the entire history of jazz. He also recorded with the top musicians of the day, both new on the scene like Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as older legends such as Art Blakey, Art Taylor, and Kenny Dorham.

His two most heralded albums, Soul Station and Roll Call, both recorded in 1960 on Blue Note are among the most sophisticated and thoughtful albums recorded for the label.

The albums consist mostly of Mobley originals. And the most amazing thing about compositions like “Cattin’,” “B For B.B.” (recorded in 1956 with Donald Byrd on The Jazz Message Of Hank Mobley on Savoy Records), or “Take Your Pick” and “The Breakdown,” both from the Roll Call album, is that one can easily hear these as big band arrangements. Which is hard to say about many of Mobley’s contemporaries, especially as the ‘60s drew near. That sense of the blues that swung all night long that Count Basie, Duke Ellington, as well as Monk, and Dizzy kept with them when composing and playing, were present in Mobley’s writing and blowing. And his sound is immediately identifiable.

Someone could blind fold me and play me a Mobley composition that I’ve never heard, covered by an artist that I’ve never heard and I’d know it was his within the first four bars. There’s still something sweet and endearing to Mobley’s “High And Flighty” tone and his big, bright arrangements. I first noticed it on “Hankerin’” from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and Curtain Call (Both on Blue Note) which were given to me by a friend when I was 14.

Leonard Feather may have penned Mobley as “The middleweight champion of the tenor sax,” but I don’t think Feather meant it as a put down. Stan Getz was great and he played softer than Rollins or Coltrane. What’s great about jazz is that there’s room for many styles and sounds. The media may not grab onto it at first or ever, but the musicians and music lovers do. Mobley could and did play hard throughout different periods of his career. Check out his bold, angular lines on Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up album on Blue Note from 1961 or “Hank’s Shout” from Introducing Lee Morgan With Hank Mobley’s Quintet on Savoy. Hank comes out swinging and never stops.

Mobley stayed true to the game until he retired with respiratory problems in the mid-’70s but his music continues to grab the attention of new jazz aficionados’ and keep the love of longtime, loyal fans like myself.

Thanks Hank.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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