JOHNNY LYTLE: HAPPY GROUND
JOHNNY LYTLE TRIO
Johnny Lytle (vib) Milton Harris (org) Peppy Hinnant (drs)
Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; March 23, 1961
Lela (4:15) Jazzland 45-709 JLP-44 Rvs4551
Take the ‘A’ Train (2:50) - -
Secret Love (6:51) -
When I Fall in Love (4:24) -
Tag Along (3:14) -
It’s All Right with Me (5:36)
Happy Ground (7:13) -
My Funny Valentine (4:12) -
The “Happy Ground” on which young vibist JOHNNY LYTLE and his colleagues stand is made up of just about equal parts f enthusiasm, skill, swing and soul. The combination, as you might expect and as you can certainly hear on this album, results in a deeply earthy and highly exciting kind of jazz.
Lytle is a hard-hitting, firmly rhythmic musician, but he is also very much a melodic performer and soloist capable of constructing consistently expressive and interest-building choruses. Another way of putting it is to note that Johnny has been strongly praised and encouraged by both Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton: which has to mean both that this young man really gets around on his instrument and that he covers a very wide musical range. This versatility sowed itself clearly on Johnny’s first Jazzland album, and is again in evidence here, in a repertoire that combines standards with a couple of notably soulful Lytle originals.
The compellingly funky and blue-filled spirit of his own compositions (the opening track, Lela, which is named for Johnny’s grandmother; and the album’s title tune) actually does set the predominant note of the LP, which also includes the gospel-imbued Tag Along, written by two Louisville friends of the vibist and which also manages to get a “down” feeling and a “church” chord or two into the lightly swinging versions of standards like It’s All Right with Me and Secret Love. The mood gets down into ballad tempo for When I Fall in Love and Funny Valentine, on both of which Milt Harris distinguishes himself from the usual run of organists by helping to enrich the interpretation without getting into those syrupy sustained passages that make too many organists sound (to some of us longer-memoried folk) like the guy who played during intermission at those gilt-and-gingerbread decorated movie palaces that television put out of business. A razzle-dazzle treatment of Billy Strayhorn’s Take the “A” Train, the only really up number of the album, demonstrates in conclusion that the trio can cook at the upper speed limits of their instruments when that’s called for.
This group is one with which ex-drummer and ex-Golden Gloves champion Lytle has been touring the Eastern and Midwestern club circuit for sometime, winning friends and return engagements just about everywhere. The Club Baby Grand, in Wilmington, Delaware, for example – which is where Orrin Keepnews, artist & repertoire chief for Jazzland (and Riverside) Records, first heard Lytle early in 1960 – is notable as a spot where an audience will not hesitate to let you know if they don’t dig you, and is also a room where Johnny is always a welcome crowd-puller. Drummer “Peppy” Hinnant has been part of the trio since just after Lytle’s first LP was recorded, in June of ’60. Organist Harris has an association with the vibist that is remarkable in this era of quickly shifting lineups. To begin with they have been friends almost as long as both can remember, having grown up together in Springfield, Ohio. In 1957 Milt, who had left music for a while, returned to hook up with Lytle and they have remained inseparable ever since. Much of the close-knit unity of the group can be credited to the by-now almost instinctive mutual understanding and anticipation of these two, as well as to that musical ‘togetherness’ that only much on-the-job experience can provide. The rest of their organized spirit comes from arrangements and routining provided by Harris.
Johnny Lytle is one of those who have been involved with music almost literally all their lives, his start as a drummer coming in a family orchestra assembled by his father, a trumpet player. (A sister, Ada Lee, has begun to attract attention as a singer.) Twice a Golden Gloves champion and loser of only three of fifty nine amateur bouts, he did briefly consider a boxing career. But three pro fights (tow of them wins) changed his mind, as noted in a quote mentioned on the liner of his first LP but well worth repeating: “I ca beat the vibes all week long and they won’t beat back.”
T he swinging Mt. Lytle’ decision to limit his swinging to jazz was undoubtedly a wise move for him. And it’s getting to sound like a most enjoyable decision for the rest of us, too.
Johnny Lylte’s previous album is: Got That Feeling (RLP-456; stereo 9456)
NOTE: all 8 titles of JLP-44 also on RLP(S9)-470
JLP(S9)-44 & RLP(S9)-470 “Johnny Lytle Trio: Happy Ground”
Produced by Orrin Keepnews & notes written by Peter drew; recording Engineer: Ray Fowler
Cover design by Ken Deardoff. Back-liner photo by Lawrence N. Shustak. RM-470 distributed in Europe by Interdisc.
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by RIVERSIDE RECORDS, Inc.
BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc. 235 West 46th Street, New York 36, N.Y.
producers of Riverside Records
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York