MARK MURPHY: THAT’S HOW I LOVE THE BLUES
Accompaniment arranged and conducted by AL COHN
Mark Murphy is accompanied by:
Nick Travis (tp) Clark Terry (tp) Snooky Young (tp) Bernie Leighton or Dick Hyman (org) Roger Kellaway (p) Jim Hall (g) Ben Tucker (b) Dave Bailey (drs) Willie Rodriguez (cng, or tambourine)
Recorded in New York City; October and December 1962
1. Going to Chicago Blues (4:11) (Basie – Rushing)
2. Senor Blues (2:24) (Horace Silver)
3. That’s How I Love the Blues (3:44) (Blane and Marin)
4. Jelly Jelly Blues (3:22) (Hines –Eckstine)
5. Blues in My Heart (2:10) (Carter – Mills)
6. Fiesta in Blue (3:10) (Mundy, Goodman – Lambert, Hendricks)
1. Rusty Dusty Blues (2:01) (J.Mayo Williams)
2. Blues in the Night (3:38) (Arlen –Mercer)
3. The Meaning of the Blues (2:49) (Troup and Worth)
4. Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout the Goggone Blues (2:23) (Creamer- Layton)
5. Blues, You’re the Mother of Sin (3:16) (Kuller – Eckstine)
6. Wee Baby Blues (5:18) (Johnson – Turner)
That long-standing argument on the subject of what (and who) is or is not a jazz singer has always struck me as particularly pointless. The fact is that the singer’s art is separate one, halfway between the musician’s and the actor’s. One could say that it partakes of both – but one would be wrong. For the contrary is actually the case: both acting and the playing of musical instrumental music derive from singing. On various occasions, Vlamir Horowitz and Bill Evans, both men of profound and acute musical wisdom, have commented to the effect that their function at the piano is to sing!
The function of the singer is, and always has been, to tell stories in a musical context. This has been true in Elizabethan England, in the blues country of the South, in the Cumberland hills, and in the modern nightclub. Whether or not a particular singer understands the nature of his function and can fulfill it well is another matter, but the function is nevertheless there. Maria Callas, recording One Fine Day from “Madam Butterfly”, was faced with the same job as the late Billie Holiday recording Porgy: to bring out the dramatic poignancy of the situation expressed in the lyrics, and to do it in a musical way. And as far as I’m concerned, they have more in common with each other than Callas has with a symphony horn player or Billie with Bunk Johnson.
Now, a singer may choose to emphasized the dramatic aspect of his task as Sinatra does), or the musical aspect of it (as Sarah Vaughan usually does), but he or she slights the other aspect at his own peril.
MARK MURPHY, it seems to me, has “roots” – not just in the short-term way in which jazz buffs use that term, but in the longer run of history. That is say, he is, whether consciously or otherwise, in touch with the tradition of musical story-telling. F it happens that he stresses the musical side of the art, it is his prerogative to do so. But he doesn’t eve slight the dramatic.
My respect for Mark’s work has increased considerably in the few years since I was first made aware of him by other singers who were talking about him all the time. And the stature of his work has also increased. He was always an incredibly musician singer, but he has begun to achieve a relaxation that is permitting the dramatic potential of his performances to emerge more and more strongly.
The idea of doing a blues album did not originate in any desire to prove something. “It was a challenge to me,” Mark says, “but the motivation wasn’t a matte of proving anything to the anonymous ‘them’.” (To be strictly accurate, of course, this might better be called a blues-imbued album, since several of these numbers are in the popular song format rather than the literal 12-bar blues structure. But all have in common the spirit of the blues – usually because that was what the composer intended, but always because that7s the way Mark deals with them.)
“Actually, I had about eight of these tunes down for quite some time before this,” Murphy continues. “They were among my favorite pieces of material. I thought I7d like to record them; and so I added some of the traditional blues, and that became the album.”
Thereby hangs a crucial point: Mark himself planned the album, even to some details of the arrangements that Al Cohn wrote. “Mark always knows what he wants,” Cohn said after the date. “That’s one reason why he’s so easy to work with.”
This is how Mark works; he thinks his material through, then goes by Al’s studio in mid-town New York, sits down at the piano (he’s a surprisingly good pianist) and tapes each tune. The piano part incorporates the essentials of what he wants to hear in the chart. The arranger doesn’t have to speculate about where he’s at; It’s all down.
The material in this album comes from a variety of sources, as even a sampling of the contents will indicate. Some are from the show tune bag, like the aptly named title selection, which is out of an early-‘40s Broadway musical; and Blues in the Night, a Harold Arlen number that has achieved a sort of honorary blues status. Both Jelly Jelly and Mother of Sin stem from Billy Eckstine. Senor Blues is the Horace Silver-written (both music and lyrics) jazz classic. Rusty Dusty and Goin’ to Chicago were both recorded by Count Basie band a couple of decades ago with memorable Jimmy Rushing vocals. The latter more recently was fitted with additional lyrics, by John Hendricks, for the instrumental passages and sung by Joe Williams plus Lamber-Henricks-Ross. Here Mark takes on the load handled by all four.
One piece of material does require more detailed discussion: Everybody’s Crazy ‘bout the Doddone Blues.
“You should see the sheet music!” Mark notes. “I got it from a friend in California named Dick Dallas. It’s a funny bit. You can take the blues seriously, and should; but you don’t have to lose your sense of humor.”
To me, Mark’s performance on this track is a comic tour de force, a musical parallel to those wild Sid Caesar satiric recreations of silent moves. That sheet music identifies this number as 1917 vaudeville material (it was introduced by Bert Williams in that year’s “Ziegfield Follies”), and Mark ahs recreated the stiff-phrased style of the early quasi-jazz of that era. Amazingly, he didn’t cop this from an old record: working from the sheet music, he simulated the style from scratch. After you finish chucking at this one, consider the rhythmic perceptiveness it took to pull it off. It affirms what every musician who has ever worked with Murphy knows: that he has truly remarkable time.
Mark does stunning things with phrasing. His range has increased enormously – it goes from falsetto (in which he can do beautiful trumpet-like shakes) down to a rich baritone. His control permits his to sing long lines. He works his way through chord changes like a horn player without forgetting that his instrument is the voice.
In this future-oriented culture of ours, one is tempted to wonder where Mark Murphy will go from here. But that isn’t necessary. As this album makes abundantly clear, his accomplishment is quite real and large in terms of the present.
Murphy’s previous Riverside album is –
Rah! – Mark Murphy (395; Stereo 9395)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY GOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RS 9441) and Monaural (RM 441) form.
RIVERSDIE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York