BLUE MITCHELL: Big Six
with JOHNNY GRIFFIN, CURTIS FULLER, WYNTON KELLY, WILBUR WARE, PHILLY JOE JONES
Blue Mitchell (tp) Curtis Fuller (tb) Johnny Griffin (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Philly Joe Jones (drs) July 2 and 3, 1958
1. Blues March (10:20) (Benny Golson)
2. Big Six (6:42) (William Boone, Jr.)
3. There Will Never Be Another You (5:00) (Gordon – Warren)
1. Brother 'Ball (7:19) (Blue Mitchell)
2. Jamph (3:43) (Curtis Fuller)
3. Sir John (8:03) (Blue Mitchell)
4. Promenade (1:43) (William Boone, Jr.)
“Blue Mitchell is something different,” Cannonball Adderley said. “This is someone you’ve got to hear.” We proceeded to follow the alto star’s advice, and were immediately glad we did. Now we are able to recommend to any and all jazz listeners that they do the same. RICHARD “BLUE” MITCHELL is different: a youthful musician with much to say in jazz and with his own way of saying it.
His debut as a leader puts him in very fast recording company, surrounded by five of the best young jazzmen currently on the Eastern scene. And Mitchell proves fully equal to the challenge, demonstrating his ability to stand up in this company and to take full advantage of such strong support. Furthermore, one of the most important results of this session is that his five colleagues here are now all definitely and outspokenly among those who firmly believe that Blue has everything it takes to really make the grade.
My first opportunity to hear Mitchell came about in the Spring of 1958, shortly after Cannonball had expressed his high opinion of his fellow-Floridian during a generalized bull-session about undiscovered talent. By a fortunate combination of circumstances, it then developed that I would be in Florida and not far from Miami (where Blue was playing a brief visit there. At Cannonball’s insistence, we arranged to meet there and to see to it that I had a chance to hear Blue. So I found myself, in the very late hours of one night, in a small Miami bar listening to Cannonball and Blue swinging hard in front of a local rhythm section. I was back to listen again the next night, and sometime around dawn shook hands with Blue to signify the addition of this “different” horn to the Riverside jazz roster.
In an era in which most young trumpet players almost inevitably come up closely patterning themselves on either Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis, the individuality of Blue Mitchell’s sound and approach is striking. Although much of this can only be attributed to the strength of his personal jazz ideas, it also seems clear that the path of Blue's’ early career has played a part in his musical independence. Born in Miami in March, 1930, he did not turn to music (even though his mother “wanted to have a musician in the family”) until he was 17, at which time he began to learn trumpet and to play in his high school band. That band training was his only formal musical education. Although he can pinpoint Dizzy’s Shaw Nuff as the first record he can recall really hearing, records were far less important as an early influence than certain in-person listening. For example, he credits a local dance band trumpeter named Dick Smothers with having provided the concept of a lyrical tone, which is that tempers his natural power and drive. He learned his jazz fundamentals from a young local group (which included bassist Sam Jones); in 1948 he was with a group that worked out of Tallahassee, and in that city he came to know Cannonball and Nat Adderley.
The principal influence on a young Florida trumpet player in the late’40s almost had to the gifted and short-lived Fats Navarro, who had not left that state for the big time very long before; and, to me, Navarro seems the only earlier horn whose sound is occasionally suggested in Blue’s playing. In 1949 and ’50, Mitchell was with Frank Brown’s orchestra (“he taught me a lot of basics”); then he went on to Detroit for a while, and thence to New York, late in ’52. A few months later he joined Earl Bostic’s band (which then included tenorman Benny Golson), where he remained until 1955. Musicians who jammed with him claim that he was really ready to be heard on his own then, but what actually did happen was the far more usual thing: he left Bostic to tour briefly with a Sarah Vaughan-Al Hibbler concert package, found that no improvement over band section work and, undoubtedly somewhat brought-down by the man-on-a-treadmill feeling that a few years of music-business routine can bring, he went back to Miami. Among other things, this meant that he wasn’t in a position to be tempted by yet another, more recent “influence”: he knew Clifford Brown only as a contemporary (even though a very impressive one), and by being away from the New York scene in the year or so just after Brownie’s death, he was able to avoid the excessive emulation and idolizing of him that has diverted and rubber-stamped many young trumpeters.
By the simple, if uncommon, process of being himself, Blue has developed into a musician with a style that is lyrical, yet warm, that can display fire and drive without sounding driven or harsh. By preference he stays largely within the middle range of his form without any high-note trickery or the like. And he swings.
He is of course aided mightily in swinging on this occasion by an enviable rhythm section: pianist WYNTON KELLY, who sparked Gillespie’s big band for over a year; WILBUR WARE, one of the most inventive and big-sounding of bassists and 1958 “New Star” choice of the Down Beat Critics Poll; and PHILLY JOE JONES, whose formidable drumming has lifted many a group, most prominently Miles Davis’. To complete the front line there is the swift and brilliant tenor of JOHNNY GRIFFIN, who has been featured with such leaders as Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey; and the highly-regarded young Detroit trombonist, CURTIS FULLER.
This LP also introduces a most promising new jazz composer, William Boone, with whom Mitchell ahs been working in Miami and who contributes Big Six and the sensitive, intricately-structured Promenade. Mitchell brought along a blues and Brother ‘Ball, a lively piece dedicated to his friend Cannonball. There is an original by Fuller, one standard ballad as a showpiece for Blue, and – as one of the album’s highspots – a special six-piece arrangement by the talented Benny Golson of his unusual and previously unrecorded Blues March.
Mitchell can also be heard on Cannonball’s first album for Riverside –
Portrait of Cannonball: JULIAN ADDERLEY Quintet (RLP 12-269)
The members of Blue’s supporting cast here have appeared frequently on outstanding Riverside LPs, including –
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet, with Wilbur Ware, Philly Joe Jones (RLP 12-264)
The Chicago Sound: WILBUR WARE Quintet, with Griffin (RLP 12-252)
WYNTON KELLY, with Jones (RLP 12-254)
Thelonious in Action: THELONIOUS MONK Quartet at the Five Spot Café, with Griffin (RLP 12-262)
This Is the Moment: KENNY DORHAM sings and Plays; with Curtis Fuller (RLP 12-275)
Serenade to a Bus Seat: CLARK TERRY, with Griffin, Kelly, Jones (RLP 12-237)
Seven Standards and a Blues: ERNIE HENRY Quartet, with Kelly, Ware, Jones (RLP 12-248)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed by PAUL BACON; cover photograph: HUGH BELL
Engineer: JACK MATHEWS (Reeves Sound Studios)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.