Settlin’ in: Dick Morgan Trio
Dick Morgan (p) Joe Benjamin (b) Ben Riley (drs)
NYC; May 19, 1961
Serenata (4:54) (Leroy Anderson)
Bash! (3:33) (Dick Morgan)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child (2:10) (traditional)
Mr. Wonderful (3:32) (Bock – Holofcener – Weiss)
If I Should Lose You (4:56) (Robin – Rainger)
Settlin’ In (4:19) (Dick Morgan)
Take the “A” Train (4:14) (Billy Strayhorn)
Work Song (2:57) (Nat Adderley)
I’ll Take Romance (4:47) (Oakland – Hammerstein)
Just in Time (4:49) (Cahn – Styne)
When I first heard DICK MORGAN play (it was in the Spring of 1960, at a Washington, D.C., club called The Showboat), I was vastly impressed, as I still am, by both the dexterity and the depth of feeling with which he played. It is a combination that is by no means commonplace, even in the most experienced of performers, and to find it in a newcomer was quite startling. At that time Morgan’s qualities had already attracted the attention of Riverside star Cannonball Adderley, and was about to make his first album, one of the first of the continuing series of “presentations” produced for us by the altoist. He seemed a young man about to happen in a hurry. Certainly, his local following could have easily been pardoned for adding up his undoubted talent, plus sponsorship-of-sorts by an established star and the definite interest shown by this record label, and coming to the conclusion that overnight fame and fortune were winging towards their favorite.
The present album, recorded some fourteen months after that first one, and with an intervening second LP, finds Morgan still impressive – but not yet famous or rich. If you have picked up this disk by accident, and are now learning of Dick Morgan for the first time, don’t (please don’t) feel either confused or embarrassed. In the rush of new and semi-new faces being presented on the jazz-record scene today, it takes time (sometimes, of course, too much time to suit those most closely involved) for the situation to sort itself out to any degree of clarity. If you go on to listen and to enjoy and to remember what you hear, as we would like to presume you will, and if you thereupon go on to pick up copies of his two previous records – or perhaps of one or more sets that may have been issued since the time these notes were written – you will merely have become part of a process that is rather necessary and considerably more logical than the expectations of sudden success that a musician’s first fans, or his family (or even the performer himself) may have. It is a process we have attempted to describe by borrowing as an album title the name of a relaxed Dick Morgan blues: Settlin’ In.
The process of settling in, a sometimes exasperating part of not just the jazz scene but of the entire entertainment-world picture, is at this writing well under way for Dick. It has often been pointed out that a close look at most “overnight” successes reveals about ten years of preparation for that night, and that you are a most unusual talent scout indeed if your “discovery” has not previously been discovered by others at least one time. (That holds true in this case, too. Late in the 1950s, Morgan was something of a protégé of the Dorsey brothers, whose grooming of him had been brief and limited to a couple of minor spots in noisy Nevada rooms up to the time of their death. Thereafter Dick put in a couple of years in home territory, doing TV and club work in and around Norfolk, Virginia, until the Washington, D.C. engagement during which Cannonball happened to hear him.) On his first two records albums Morgan used – to very good advantage – the bassist and drummer then working with guitarist Charlie Byrd, who was the headliner at The Showboat when Dick worked there. Now, even though this is not a regular Morgan working trio to be heard here, it is far closer to that than what you get on many a record date. Joe Benjamin, a wonderfully firm and helpful bassist, was with Dick during much of an early 1961 engagement at The Embers – the young pianist’s first New York club date, which is another basic element in the “settling in” process. Ben riley is not Dick’s drummer for the same reason that he is not with a good many others who have been asking him of late: he is not available to them, this fast-rising young member of the fine current crop of newer drummers being part of the exciting group co-led by tenormen Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (which records for Riverside’s affiliated label, Jazzland). But Ben and Dick, as it happened had been in military service together, and Riley was both anxious and readily able to fit again into a smooth-working groove with him.
Jazz musicians actually change and develop quite gradually – barring perhaps only sudden spurts that may turn a man you couldn’t stand yesterday into a standout today. Thus I find Dick’s playing on this album much on the level it was when I first heard him. Which, I hasten to add, I consider and excellent level. Morgan tends to remind me of Garner and Peterson, not nearly so much because of any stylistic similarities as because he seems to share with those stars not only a type of vast technical ability (I know all about how Garner can’t read music, and is untrained; which has nothing at all to do with his actual command of his own kind of keyboard technique – your English teacher might not have given Hemingway an “A” on a theme, and what would that prove?) but also an unquenchable tendency – no, call it a desire – to swing at all times and all tempos. (He also “sings,” which is to say he grunts and groans, while he plays, another attribute shared with Garner and Peterson, but that is our recording engineer’s problem; I mention it only in the interests of accuracy and in case you wondered about those in-tempo sounds.)
If there is a really noticeable change in Dick’s playing since preceding albums – and I do think there is – it is also in the “settling in” area. The fact of recording doesn’t actually frighten many musicians, but it does inhibit almost all of them at the start, and some never outgrow a certain musical diffidence in the studio. Morgan by now is firmly into it as far as recording is concerned; he has learned such valuable lessons as that the extreme changes and shadings in dynamics that are a trademark of his will for the most part be handled properly by a skilled engineer – and if one such abrupt shift is momentarily missed during an otherwise first-rate performance, so what?
He takes his increasing confidence (although he remains a quiet, shy young man away from the keyboard), his colleagues, and his firmly swinging style through a varied repertoire that includes two of his own tunes (the already frequently-noted title number, and Bash), a healthy chunk of well-structured but not over-often recorded standards to which he adds his own touches (a graceful treatment of Serenata is one notable example; a rousing Take the “A” Train that opens with a chorus of piano-and-drum ‘fours’ is another, and such off-trail items as a tenderly emotional version of the spiritual Motherless Child and a hearty trio attack on Nat Adderley’s earthy Work Song.
In all, an album to listen to by a young pianist who is bound to be prominently around for quite a while, and who has now gotten himself well and most interestingly settle in.
Dick Morgan’s previous Riverside albums include –
At The Showboat (RLP 329; Stereo 1183)
See What I Mean? (RLP 347; Stereo 9347)
Produced by Orrin Keepnews
Recording Engineer: Bill Stoddard (Bell Sound Studios)
Mastered by Plaza Sound Studios
Album designed by Ken Deardoff
Back-liner photographs by Steve Schapiro?
This recording is also available in Stereophonic form on RLP 9383
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York