BOBBY TIMMONS: BORN TO BE BLUE
BOBBY TIMMONS TRIO
Bobby Timmons (p) Ron Carter (b) Connie Kay (drs)
Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; August 12, 1963
Namely You (6:01) RM(S9)-468
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (4:40) - M-47031
Know Not One (7:52) -
BOBBY TIMMONS TRIO
Bobby Timmons (p) Sam Jones (b) Connie Kay (drs)
Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; September 10, 1963
Born To Be Blue (4:23) RM(S9)-468 M-47031
Malice towards None (4:55) -
The Sit-In (4:15) -
Often Annie (9:07) -
I caught up with Bobby Timmons between sets at the Five Spot (where he was in the midst of an extended engagement), to ask him bluntly what he thought of this album. His answer was quick, firm and most serious. “I think this is the best record I’ve ever made,” he said.
Most of the talk about jazz is curiously devoid of any mention of content. While there is great emphasis on the ‘how’ of the music – form, technique and improvisation – little attention is paid to the ‘what’. What is the substance of jazz? What is the equality of its feeling? (Instead of asking people “How do you feel? The late Lester Young would obliquely inquire, “How are your feelings?) When the question does rear its head, it is usually assigned a wearily appropriate if vaguely abstract adjective – “anguish” for Charlie Parker’s music, or “melancholy” for Miles Davis’ – and quickly trundled out of view again, lie a child who has unwittingly brought up a rude subject before guests. The English anthropologist Eric Borneman holds that practically all that is worthwhile as far as content goes in jazz is contained in the blues. Without agreeing with this rather inflexible proposition, one is forced to note that without the blues, the house of jazz would have no foundation at all.
The blues are at the heart of the matter, a way of telling the way things really are; a tought, homemade poetry of a people whose particular pain, scribed in song, sketches the human condition as surely as the arrows fit the wounds. Listen to the blues and see your features on another’s face. The blues tell a story, de profundis and swing the world, connecting on eman and many men, one history and many histories. If a man has the blues, you feel sorry for him, but if he can sing (or play) about his troubles, he doesn’t need your pity, for he has the cure as well as the disease. It’s not a bad bag to be in.
Bobby Timmons is never far from the blues. Certainly in the front rank of what, for want of a word, could be designated as the traditionally modern pianists, he has carved off a considerable chunk of territory both as an instrumentalist and composer. He has come a long way from his first days in New York as a 19 year-old wunderkind, fresh from Philadelphia, with an incisive, Bud Powellish right hand and a rumbling, I-can-play-down-blues-too left. In those days he gigged and scuffled with Kenny Dorham and Sonny Stitt and in the band of Maynard Ferguson. The first leap in Bobbby’s fortunes occurred shortly after he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, when his gospel-favored blues confection called Moanin’ became, in jazz terms at least, a hit. Shortly thereafter, his lively, slightly mocking This Here, cut with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, was the vehicle on which that organization rode to national prominence. This Here, a hit in anybody’s language, established ‘Timmons as a major talent.
Fashion, a plush red carpet with the nasty habit of yanking itself out from under you without warning, has turned in a couple of different directions since that first flesh of success. Actually, Bobby’s talent has measurably broadened during the past two and a half years, a time during which he has led his own trio (interrupted only by a brief tour of duty with J. J. Johnson). However, in this period of personal musical growth, Timmons’ reputation has suffered the rigor mortis of quick and easy categorization as strictly a funk-soul man. This beautifully recorded album should serve to clear the air on that subject, and give a few critical necks a severe case of what insurance men call whiplash.
Yet the blues is everywhere here. But it is in no way a restricting or limiting element. Th ekey word here would seem to e “range”. “Range,” explains Bobby, “is what I wanted to show in this album A whole spectrum of sounds.” The huge of Timmons’ music do not astonish by contrast; instead they undulate like a play of colored lights on the water: deep shafts, dancing as they converge and blend. Yet the blues crop up on every side, sometimes no more than atmosphere, elsewhere as a theme skipping along jauntily behind the eat or, again, as a voice probing at the melody.
There is for example, plenty of blue in the ‘standard’ that serves as the title tune. That title, incidentally, could easily be used as a capsule comment on Bobby’s approach to jazz. Often Annie (a Timmons original) s a tart and frilly filly in a fancy blue nightgown, who has a habit of repeating herself, while the blues Know Not One is a wry exposition of witty insight. More darkly, there is Tom McInstosh’s Malice Towards None, its stately melody unfurling like an advancing banner. There is also, in The Sit-In, Timmons’ portrait of a very contemporary mood. But for me the song that most effectively coneys Bobby’s self-awareness is his arrangement of the spiritual Sometims I Feel Like a Motherless Child, his keyboard covering the scene and delivering the message in a series of swirling variations that seem to bare the pianist’s soul (in the old-fashioned, non-jazz sese of that word).
For his self-appointed task of displaying a full “spectrum,” Bobby could have picked no better cohorts. Sam Jones, a charter member of the “all-soul” rhythm section, has played with Bobby in and outside of the Cannonball Adderley band; his warm and singing bass keeps that good time going. Ron Carter is the highly skilled bassist currently with Miles Davis. A conservatory trained jazzman, capable of playing anything, he is a superb soloist with an energizing beat and at least one foot in the avantgarde.
Connie Kay, the beautiful motor of the Modern Jazz Quartet, has an exhilarating effect on any group. Here he pulls tight the skin of the trio, with an expansive, infectious beat and a personal cymbal sound.
A final word from our leader. “This was the first time I ever walked into a studio and lost consciousness of everything around me,” Bobby mused. “I was only aware of the other musicians and the music. Nine times out of ten, something like that will only happed in a club. I don’t just mean being able to relax. I know all that stuff about pressure in the recording studio ,but that’s not what I mean. I mean unconscious of everything – microphones, music stands, people, everything except the music.” And for an instant as he spoke I lost consciousness of my own environment and understood what this remarkable session had meant to him as a musician. The splendid part is that we have the record – this is one that didn’t get away.
DAVID A. HIMMELSTEIN
BOBBY TIMMONS’s other riverside albums include –
This Here Is Bobby Timmons (317; stereo 1164)
Soul Time (334; stereo 9334)
Easy Does It (363; stereo 9363)
Bobby Timmons Trio in Person (391; stereo 9391)
Sweet and Soulful Sounds (442; stereo 9422)
NOTE: all 7 titles of RM(S9)-468 also on SMJ-6307, VICJ-60488CD
RM(S9)-468 “Born to Be Blue” Produced by Orrin Keepnews; recording Engineer: Ray Fowler.
Notes written by David A. Himmelstein. Cover design by Ken Deardoff; back-liner photo by Steve Schapiro.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, INC.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York.