A Jazz Version of KEAN by THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ STARS
Featuring Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Heath, and The Bobby Timmons Trio
Blue Mitchell (tp) Clark Terry (tp, flh) replaced by Ernie Royal (tp) on Penny Plain and Willow Julius Watkins (frh) George Dorsey (as) Jimmy Heath (ts) Arthur Clarke (brs) Bobby Timmons (p) Ron Carter (b) Albert Heath (drs)
Music by Robert Wright and George Forrest
Sweet Danger; To Look upon My Love; Elena – arranged by Jimmy Heath, conducted by Ernie Wilkins
The Fog and the Grog; Chime In! ; Inevitable – arranged and conducted by Ernie Wilkins
Penny Plain; Willow – arranged and conducted by Melba Liston
Sweet Danger (3:36)
Chime In! (3:31)
Penny Plain (4:10)
To Look Upon My Love (5:07)
The Fog and the Grog (3:45)
Willow, Willow, Willow (4:12)
As the jazz version of a Broadway musical-comedy score, this album of music from “KEAN” is of course following a path that others have walked before this. But we feel that at least three qualities set this LP apart from, and above, others of its kind. For one thing, it has been put together by a cast of truly first-class jazz artists. For another, it is not a pale collection of jazz-in-name-only, but a forthright, richly melodic, thoroughly swinging effort. Lastly (but far from least) it deals with tunes that are strong and supple enough to lend themselves to valid jazz treatment.
Ever since the overwhelming success of at least one jazz album of music from “My Fair Lady,” the practice of recording such treatments of show scores has become a widespread habit. But not all musical comedy writing is automatically susceptible to successful jazz treatment – as several previous attempts have unintentionally helped to prove. However, a truly lyrical and robust score is very likely to have its share of challenging and rewarding material; and when we first heard tell of a musical about the colorful and flamboyant early-19th century British actor, Edmund Kean, we suspected that something suitable might be forthcoming. Furthermore, the show was being constructed around the colorful and flamboyant star, Alfred Drake, which made it reasonable to hope for a goodly amount of bright, strong, romantic and tuneful songs.
When “Kean” opened on the road to ecstatic Boston and Philadelphia reviews, our enthusiastic suspicions seemed verified. So we journeyed to the latter city to hear for ourselves, in the company of tenorman-arranger Jimmy Heath, and it was immediately and mutually agreed that here was something to dig into.
It was also clear that this was a score that (without twisting or distorting its natural bent in the slightest) could be dealt with in a way that had never been tried in previous jazz versions of Broadway – with emphasis on the melodic yet hard-swinging and soulful qualities of current East Coast jazz so well represented by so many outstanding Riverside artists.
Featured on the album, and handling the bulk of the solo work in striking fashion, are three of today’s most impressive younger musicians. There is the firm and lyrical trumpet of BLUE MITCHELL, the rich and agile tenor sax of JIMMY HEATH, and BOBBY TIMMONS’ earthy, surging piano. The rest of the rhythm section consists of the other two highly-regarded members of Timmons’ tight-knit trio: Ron Carter on bass, and drummer Albert Heath (Jimmy’s brother). Also prominent are Julius Watkins, who surely does more with a French horn than any other jazzman; and Clark Terry, whose buoyant, brilliant fleugelhorn is particularly notable on To Look Upon My Love.
Three remarkable arrangers shared the assignment of adapting eight of the Wright and Forrest melodies into smoothly-constructed jazz. The multitalented JIMMY HEATH was strongly attracted to Sweet Danger as soon as he first heard it. That tune,. Along with Elena (to which Jimmy imparts a lightly-Latin touch) and the spritely To Look Upon My Love, are all sung in the play by Edmund Kean, who was never any more serious about this many loves than was absolutely necessary – a spirit retained in the light-hearted flow of the varied Heath charts. ERNIE WILKINS, one of the most celebrated of big-band arrangers and equally at home with a medium-sized group like this one, scored another love song, Inevitable (this one sung to Kean by a determined young lady) in ballad style. Wilkins also took on the tricky task of converting The Fog and the Grog, which in its original form is a show-stopping drunken vocal-trio number about the misadventures of a frog in the London mists; Timmons’ opening piano statement tips you to the fact that the tongue-in-cheek quality has been retained. On-stage, Chime In! is a rousing choral affair; Ernie avoided the temptation to turn it into just another routine jazz-type march, but has retained its exciting build-up feeling. MELBA LISTON, a young lady whose arrangements usually reveal a rare sense of beauty, ahs made a most sensitive ballad out of Penny Plain, which is actually the cry of a young street-hawker selling pictures (priced at a “penny plain, two-pence colored”) of his idol Edmund Kean. The unusually structured and deeply plaintive Willow, Willow, Willow, which close the album, is sung on-stage by an actress about to play the part of Desdemona in “Othello.”
The instrumentation here – three brass, three reeds, three rhythm – was set by Jimmy Heath. It is similar to that used on his own earlier album, “Really Big,” and its purpose is the same: to make possible a full and rich big-band section sound while still preserving the free as flexible atmosphere of small-band jazz. This concept, as developed by talented arrangers and performed by a notable musical cast, assists this album greatly towards its double goal – to stand on its own merits as a stimulating musical experience, and to offer an intriguing plus to fans of one of the most appealing and picturesque Broadway musicals in many a year.
(“KEAN,” starring Alfred Drake, opened at the Broadway Theater in New York on November 2, 1961. Strong critical acclaim and immediate public acceptance marked it as an instant hit.)
Albums by the musicians featured here include –
Smooth as the Wind: Blue Mitchell with Strings and Brass (RLP 367; Stereo 9367)
Blue’s Moods: Blue Mitchell (RLP 336; Stereo 9336)
This Here Is Bobby Timmons (RLP 317; Stereo 1164)
The Bobby Timmons Trio in Person (RLP 391; Stereo 9391)
Really Big: Jimmy Heath Orch. (RLP 333; Stereo 1188)
The Quota: Jimmy Heath (RLP 372; Stereo 9372)
Album produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER (Recorded and Mastered at Plaza Sound Studios)
Album Design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner Photographs: STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York