A Sure Thing: BLUE MITCHELL
Blue Mitchell (tp) Clark Terry (tp) Julius Watkins (frh) Jerome Richardson (as, fl) Jimmy Heath (ts) Pepper Adams (brs) or Pat Patrick (brs – Side 1, #1 and Side 2, #2 only) Wynton Kelly (p) Sam Jones (b) Albert Heath (drs)
(Gone with the Wind is played by Mitchell, Jimmy Heath and rhythm section only)
First six selections arranged by Jimmy Heath
New York; March 7, 8 & 28, 1962
West Coast Blues (5:41) (Wes Montgomery)
I Can’t Get Started with You (3:44) (Vernon Duke)
Blue on Blue (4:44) (Jimmy Heath)
A Sure Thing (4:29) (Jerome Kern)
Hootie Blues (5:20) (Jay McShann)
Hip to It (4:57) (Blue Mitchell)
Gone with the Wind (5:57) (Wrubel – Magidson)
In a recent essay on the work of pianist Horace Silver, critic Martin Williams remarked that “One striking effect of Silver’s career is how many trumpeters have found themselves while they were associated with him.” After noting such examples as Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd ad Art Farmer, Williams went on to comment that “his current horn, Blue Mitchell, is discovering himself while working with Silver,” and continued by stressing, with perhaps a touch of wonderment, that “his trumpeters always seem to gain greatly as melodists, even as Silver bounces and chops his way around behind them.”
This is not the proper place to attempt to assess the role of Silver in bringing Blue Mitchell’s talent to fruition, but Williams’ comments do serve as a useful introduction to the music on this LP. For it is quite apparent by now that it is primarily as a melodist that Mitchell is valuable, even while many of his contemporary co-instrumentalists busy themselves with other areas of music. And, unlike some of his associates, who have fallen more under the extremely personal influence of Miles Davis than may be good for them, he has been able to concentrate on melody while sacrificing none of the unique brass quality and sound of his horn.
The most extended proof of this contention was probably Mitchell’s “Smooth as the Wind” album (which placed him in an unaccustomed string setting at the same time that it announced the welcome and overdue return of composer-arranger Tadd Dameron), but there is further evidence, and that of a very special kind, contained here.
Rather than run down the list of songs presented here as they appear in the album, in the usual way, I would prefer to direct your attention immediately to I Can’t Get Started. This piece, of course, was famous as a trumpet player’s vehicle long before Mitchell ever arrived on the scene, primarily because of the trumpet-and-vocal rendition of the late Bunny Berigan, a performance enshrined in the memory of an older generation o jazz fans at least as much because of nostalgia as excellence. Nothing Mitchell is likely to do would challenge that – it exists in another area entirely. But there is also a less well-known, but to me infinitely preferable, trumpet version of the piece, that well might give any trumpet player second thoughts about attempting his own version. I refer to the classic, and undeservedly obscure, recording made by Dizzy Gillespie with Don Byas. It is that performance that should cause hesitation of the part of a modern trumpeter, and that Mitchell plays the piece here with such a direct, sure grasp of what he wants to do with it on his own is, I think, a distinct credit to him.
There is yet another self-sought challenge to be found on this album. That is Hootie Blues, part of the book of the famous Jay McShann band, which is now remembered primarily because Charlie Parker, a McShann sideman at the time, recorded one of his first solos on it. The present version explores the piece itself for what it is, and derives not specifically from the McShann record, but rather from the version used by a band Mitchell and bassist Sam Jones were in together as teen-agers in Florida.
There are several other factors involved in this record which should be pointed out. First of all, there is the skill of Jimmy Heath in deploying his unusual nine-piece instrumentation to the advantage he does, as well as in his own tenor saxophone solos, particularly the one of Gone with the Wind, in which the format of the rest of the set gives way to the standard bop quintet line-up for uninhibited blowing. There is the outstanding work of both baritone saxophonists, Pepper Adams and his alternate for two selections, Pat Patrick. There is the sympathetic support of one of the variants of what might as well be called the Riverside rhythm section, in this case Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones, and Albert “Tootie” Heath. There is the kind of rare, selfless contribution involved when a superb musician such as Clark Terry operates strictly as a section man, leaving Blue Mitchell to take all the trumpet solos. There are the fine opportunities for playing offered by the session’s two originals, Mitchell’s Hip to It and Jimmy Heath’s Blue on Blue. There is the resurrection in a new context of the seldom-heard Jerome Kern tune which gives this album its title, A Sure Thing. There is further evidence of how much musicians like to play Wes Montgomery’s West coast Blues.
But primarily, there is further testament to the growing stature of Blue Mitchell, a growth that is taking place without most of the fanfare that generally attend such phenomena nowadays, but is, as the enclosed record eloquently attests, none the less important for all that.
Mitchell’s other Riverside albums include –
Smooth as the Wind: Blue Mitchell with Strings and Brass (RLP 367; Stereo 9367)
Blue’s Moods (RLP 336; Stereo 9336)
Blue Soul (RLP 309; Stereo 1155)
Out of the Blue (RLP 393; Stereo 1131)
Blue Mitchell’s Big Six (RLP 373)
(This record is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9414) and Monaural (RLP 414) form.
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER (Recorded and Mastered at Plaza Sound Studios)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York