BILLY TAYLOR with Four Flutes
featuring FRANK WESS, HERBIE MANN, JEROME RICHARDSON
Billy Taylor (p) with on The Song Is Ended, Back Home, One for the Woofer: Frank Wess, Herbie Mann, Jerome Richardson, Phil Bodner (fl) Tommy Williams (b) Chino Pozo (cng) Dave Bailey (drs) On Loolbongo and Blue Shutters: Billy Slapin replaces Richardson; others the same. O St. Thomas, Lady Be Good, How About You: Mann, Richardson, Slapin, Jerry Sanfino (fl) Williams (b) Pozo (cng) Albert Heath (drs) On No Parking: Seldon Powell replaces Mann; others the same.
NYC; July 20 and 24, 1959
The Song Is Ended (3:49) (Irving Berlin)
Back Home (6:15) (Billy Taylor)
St. Thomas (2:28) (Sonny Rollins)
Lady Be Good (2:53) (George & Ira Gershwin)
No Parking (2:53) (Billy Taylor)
Koolbongo (4:18) (Mary Lou Williams)
Blue Shutters (6:54) (Billy Taylor)
One for the Woofer (4:42) (Billy Taylor)
How About You? (4:51) (Freed – Lane)
BILLY TAYLOR, who is marking his addition to the distinguished Riverside jazz roster with this album, is deservedly known to record-purchasers, TV-watchers, and nighclub-goers throughout the country as one of the most consistently satisfying and smoothly swinging of jazz pianists. He is also known as just about exclusively a trio man, having worked with just bass and drums behind him ever since 1952, and having made virtually all of his records in the same way. But that only helps to prove once again that it never pays to take anything for granted – particularly in jazz.
For as it turns out, Billy has for a long time been anxious to try recording something quite different: not only unlike his own precious efforts, but as far as can be determined, one of those musical rareties – a truly and legitimately different idea. Basically, his thought was to work with a full-fledged flute section, exploring a great many of the possibilities of single and multiple flutes in combination with piano, but with primary emphasis on the use of flutes, on both unison and harmony, in much the same way as a big-band reed or brass section.
Although Taylor is a well-schooled musician and a frequent jazz composer (four of his tunes are included here), he had never before tired his hand at scoring for any sizeable group. But in this case, with his ideas and the sound he wanted so firmly in mind, it seemed that he only really feasible course was to set them down himself.
In selecting his lineup, there was no question about who would fill one of the flute chairs. Taylor’s interest in the flute stems directly form paying attention to the work of Frank Well who, he notes, plays exactly the way Billy feels jazz flute should be played. The two have known each other, incidentally, ever since high school days in Washington, D.C., where Taylor credits Wess with having turned him into a piano player. (“I was playing tenor in the school band, sitting next to Frank; and after listening to him for a while I just had to give up the tenor.”)
He turned also to two of the most notable flutists in the East, Herbie Mann and Jerome Richardson. Completing the section for the first recording session was Phil Bodner, a highly accomplished musician generally occupied with studio work, playing alto flute in something like the equivalent of the baritone sax role in a standard reed section. When the travels of the Count Basie band, in whose own reed section Wess has been a mainstay since 1953, made Frank unavailable for the completion of the album, there was personnel juggling involving use of other ‘studio men.’ Their perfomances led Taylor to some comments on how often the type-casting of musicians as either jazz or non-jazz players is irrelevant. Given the opportunity, these men handled the requirements of jazz ensemble phrasing and even – in the case of Bodner on Blue shutters – jazz blowing with great success.
The inclusion in the rhythm section of a conga drummer is another unusual aspect. Although, on suitable numbers like Koodbongo and St. Thomas and in the tricky 6/8 opening of How About You?, Chino Pozo is laying down a Latin-esque beat, his main function was to play straight American-jazz rhythm, making for a deeper and firmer rhythm sound against the flute blend. The rest of the rhythm section included Tommy Williams, a highly promising young bassist who has been working with Mary Lou Williams, and on drums either Dave Bailey, who has been with Gerry Mulligan of late, or Al Heath, youngest member of a talented jazz family, who has been appearing with increasing frequency on Riverside dates.
The very first selection here should make it clear that this is a relaxed and swinging occasion, and that the warm, clear, buoyant and airy ensemble flute sound really is something else! That number, The Song Is Ended, features unison flute work with some touches of harmony. There’s more unison ensemble on St. Thomas, and a great variety of approaches to this matter of flutes on the other number. As an example of the use of the contrasting timbre of ensemble flutes and piano, there is How About You. For scored flute background behind a piano solo, there is the fiercely driving No Parking. There is even a wild, show-stopping, three-way flute chase, on Blue Shutters, in which Wess, Mann, and Bodner in turn take four bars apiece and keep it up until they have split twelve full blues choruses. Back Home, another blues, finds Taylor in rare down-to-earth form and enables Wess to demonstrate at length his moving treatment of bedrock blues on flute.
Koolbongo, developed from a wonderfully effective bass line, is Mary Lou Williams’ theme, previously recorded only by her. It offers flute riffs behind both piano and Wess’ flute blowing, and also allows Frank to stretch out in exotic fashion, One for the Woofer, in addition to featuring Tommy Williams on bass, as the title might suggest, also gives Richardson a solo spot, Lady Be Good, is largely free-blowing flute and piano, with Mann in the center of the stage.
In all, a fascinating and varied and certainly unique exploration of the potentialities of the jazz flute when it is treated with skill and imagination. But all this emphasis on flutes should not cause anyone to neglect that this it is very much Billy Taylor’s album. Not only is he organizer, leader, composer, and arranger here, but he is in peak form as pianist, wailing through each number in a way that help make his Riverside debut a most auspicious and enjoyable occasion.
Other outstanding Riverside jazz includes –
The THELONIOUS MONK Orchestra at Town Hall (RLP 12-300)
CHET BAKER plays the best of Lerner and Loewe; with Zoot Sims, Herbie Mann (RLP 12-307)
Things Are Getting Better: CANNONBALL ADDERLEY with Milt Jackson (RLP 12-286)
Deeds, Not Words: MAX ROACH (RLP 12-280)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover produced and designed by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Back-liner photos by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
Engineer: PHI RAMONE (A & R Recording Studios)
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.