Most Likely …: DICK JOHNSON
Dick Johnson (as) Dave McKenna (p) Wilbur Ware (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs) NYC; October 30, 1957
1. Lee Antics (6:32) (Dick Johnson)
2. It's So Peaceful in the Country (2:30) (Alec Wilder)
3. Aw C'mon Hoss (3:05) (Dick Johnson)
4. Stella by Starlight (4:24) (Young – Washington)
5. Me'n Dave (4:37) (Dick Johnson)
1. It's Bad for Me (3:55) (Cole Porter)
2. The End of a Love Affair (5:15) (Edward Redding)
3. Folderol (7:24) (Dick Johnson)
4. The Loop (3:34) (Dick Johnson)
A good deal about the musical personality of DICK JOHNSON can actually be learned from the story of the rather unusual cover photo on this LP. Most Likely..., as an album title, is intended as a double meaning. Johnson, with his husky, All American appearance, struck us as looking much like the first-string halfback on your college football team. You know; the one who was elected class president one year, and who wound up being named in the yearbook as "Most Likely to Succeed." Dick also struck us, from the first time we heard him play, as a young man very likely to succeed in very quickly surging towards the top ranks of today's jazz altoists. Therefore the idea of posing him in a frame designed to suggest a college yearbook photo. But when we examined the various pictures that had been taken, we found hardly any in which Dick had been frozen into that sort of numb formal pose. In the best shots he was active, appearing - as he does in the one finally selected - as if he were quizzically considering the possibility of climbing out of that frame. The moral here, of course, is that Dick Johnson, whether posing for a portrait or playing his horn, does not sit still. Very decidedly, he gets around.
His musical getting around comes at you right from the start of this LP, in the swinging original that is the first selection. Lee-Antics is more or less dedicated to Lee Konitz, one of the horn men by whom Dick considers himself to have been influenced. But this should not be taken to mean that you can pinpoint Johnson's position on the current jazz scene that easily. Far from it. What is does emphasize is that, like all the good ones, Johnson is very much his own boy. Of course it would be impossible (and not very helpful) for a young musician to come along who was totally independent of those around him and just before him. Thus there can be heard in Dick elements of Konitz, of Phil Woods, inevitably something of Charlie Parker, and something of the mellow bite of Zoot Sims (who, Johnson says, "has certainly influenced me as much as anyone"). But it is far more important to note that he has already - on what is his first album for Riverside and only his second as a leader - come a very long way towards assimilating all this and more into a highly personal approach. Which is, after all, just about the best compliment that can be paid to a young jazzman.
Dick's approach is a far-raging one, including an awareness of the cool, and ability to make use of a background of big-band experience, a real feeling for ballads (The End of a Love Affair; It's So Peaceful in the Country) and an appreciation of the blues (The Loop), and even retaining something of the impression that Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw records had made on him as a youthful clarinetist (as in Folderol).
But perhaps the clearest clue is in the nature of the rhythm section with which he works so smoothly here. DAVE McKENNA, whom Dick has known and played with since 1948, is incisively and approvingly described by Johnson as "traditional in a real modern vein." I'd translate that as meaning that Dave is firmly two-handed pianist with unhackneyed and completely up-to-date conception, which he surely is.
WILBUR WARE and PHILLY JOE JONES, who have appeared both separately and together on quite a few Riverside albums, are generally classified as in the "post-bop" school. But that is far less significant than that both are superbly creative modern-jazz performers who have probably never even considered the possibility of there being any danger of conflict between their own inventiveness and their function as a solid rhythmic base. And, of course, for men like these, there is no such danger. Thus they, too, could aptly be called "traditional in a real modern vein." Johnson points out that he know how much he could expect from his old side-kick McKenna, with whom he had jammed as a teen-ager (Dick was born in Brockton, Mass.; Dave is from Woonsocket, Rhode Island) and who was recently with him in the Buddy Morrow orchestra. ("A lot of this date is Dave's feel.") But he had never before played with Ware or Jones, and the overall combination left him feeling highly pleased ("such good ears... they all made so much out of the things we played...").
One thing is certain: the combination of this rhythm section and the highly adept and inventive Johnson alto make this a consistently and fundamentally surging and swinging set, an album that is, in all respects, a most likely one....
To set down the biographical facts: Dick Johnson is Massachusetts-born (December, 1925); his mother, a graduate of the New England Conservatory, taught piano, and Dick studied that instrument from the age of five. At sixteen he took up the clarinet, including two years at the New England Conservatory; at 20 he added saxophone (primarily, he claims, because he was in the Navy then and that was the best way to get into the band). In 1946 he heard Charlie Parker for the first time, and dates his affection for the alto from them. He gigged locally after the war; in 1951 spent six months on the West Coast with a home town group; then was with Charlie Spivack from 1952 to '55 (Manny Albam was arranging for the band in that period), and from '55 through '57 was with Buddy Morrow. He was given considerable solo room with both groups, particularly with Morrow, whom Dick credits with encouraging him greatly. Buddy featured Johnson, most notably in a jazz quartet unit within the band, and Dick developed a considerable personal following during the band's frequent college concerts. Johnson also appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.
Other outstanding modern jazz on HIGH FIDELITY 12-inch on Riverside LPs includes –
Mulligan Meets Monk: GERRY MULLIGAN and THELONIOUS MONK (RLP 12-247)
The Sound of Sonny: SONNY ROLLINS (RLP 12-241)
Monk’s Music: THELONIOUS MONK Septet; with Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey (RLP 12-242)
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK; with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry (RLP 12-226)
That’s Him: ABBEY LINCOLN; with Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-251)
A Grand Night for Swinging: MUNDELL LOWE; with Billy Taylor, Gene Quill (RLP 12-238)
Zoot!: The ZOOT SIMS Quintet (RLP 12-228)
Seven Standards and a Blues: ERNIE HENRY Quartet; with Wynton Kelly, Wilbur Ware, Philly Joe Jones (RLP 12-249)
“Pal Joey”: jazz impressions of the Rodgers & Hart classic by the KENNY DREW Trio; with Philly Joe Jones, Wilbur Ware (RLP 12-249)
Sultry Serenade: HERBIE MAN (RLP 12-234)
“Great Ideas of Western Mann”: HERBIE MANN’s Californians (RLP 12-245)
Blues for Tomorrow: previously unreleased versions of the blues; featuring Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey,
Mundell Lowe, Billy Taylor, Bobby Jaspar (RLP 12-243)
Jazz for Lovers: top jazzmen play tender ballads; featuring Kenny Dorham, Zoot Sims, Coleman Hawkins,
Don Elliott, Herbie Mann, Mundell Lowe, Clark Terry, etc. (RLP 12-244)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording - Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced, and notes written by, Orrin Keepnews.
Cover by Paul Weller (photography) and Paul Bacon (design).
Engineer: Jack Higgins (Reeves Sound Studios).
RIVERSIE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.