All Members: DON SLEET Quintet
Don Sleet (tp) Jimmy Heath (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Ron Carter (b) Jimmy Cobb (drs)
Recorded in New York City; March 16, 1961
1. Brooklyn Bridge (5:40) (Clifford Jordan)
2. Secret Love (6:52) (Webster – Fain)
3. Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise (3:35) (Hammerstein – Romberg)
4. Fast Company (5:54) (Don Sleet)
1. But Beautiful (7:34) (Burke – Van Heusen)
2. All Members (6:08) (Jimmy Heath)
3. The Hearing (6:20) (Clifford Jordan)
Early in 1960, I received a record by a group- called Lenny McBrowne and the Four Souls. The sidemen were all completely unknown to me. On the back of the album was a group picture (sans instruments). Three of the men were dark-skined; two were white. There was no identifying caption, and the liner notes, unlike, say, the New York Daily Mirror (and many other publications) did not specify which men were Negro.
Being of the school that judges a man by his talent, not the color of his skin my only interest in matching the names with the musicians in the picture came from that same natural curiosity which makes one study the captions on those well-populated shots of Miss Universe contestants. You just want to know who’s who!
After paying the record, my only wish was to take one of those people who claim to be able t tell a man’s racial origins just by hearing him play, sit him down n front of my loudspeaker, and have him try to solve my problem. I never did get a chance to make that test, though; so it was not until Riverside issued the album “Easter Lights” by the McBrowne group in 1961 (with individual identified pictures of the players) that I finally came to know who each of those West Coasters were.
The trumpeter with McBrowne’s group (which has since been forced to disband) was DON SLEET. Impressed with his playing on “Eastern Lights,” Jazzland and Riverside A&R man Orrin Keepnews asked Sleet to record an album of his own. Don is white. The other four musicians on this date are Negroes. This is not a turnabout jazz sit-in, and I have no desire to make Sleet seem like some kind of freak. (Certainly he is far from the first white musician to play with an otherwise Negro group.) But in the face of the reverse prejudice prevalent in jazz today (among many musicians and fans alike), I feel that playing this record for certain people – without telling them the racial origins of the performers – can be an effective squelch to this type of thinking.
When you come down to it, style is a matter of influence and the environment in which that influence or influences are allowed to develop. It also depends very much on the desire and intent of the specific individual within a given stylistic area.
Don Sleet (a youngster from San Diego, California, born November 27, 1938 in Fort Wayne, Indiana), happens to have been influenced originally by Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham (listen to his alternation of short, punchy phrases with long lines). More recently, he relates, Blue Mitchell has caught his ear, too. But the important thing is that, regardless of influences, Sleet is not a copier but a young man who is already assimilating these influences into a style of his own. In other words, “He can play!”
Dom comes from that almost inevitable musical background. His father heads a school system music department. Don started studying with him at the age of nine, took piano lessons for four years, continued on trumpet in San Diego, and at 16, in Hollywood, had ex-Kenton trumpeter Buddy Childers as his mentor for a year. In addition, he investigated harmony and theory over a five-year period with Daniel Lewis in San Diego and Shorty Rogers in Los Angeles.
Despite his few years, Don’s playing experience is not limited. It includes five big-band years, divided between the San Diego state College Jazz Band and Terry Gibbs; three years with the San Diego Symphony; and his own small group for three years. (Naturally, some of these varied experiences were concurrent.) his band won the Easter Week Jazz Festival at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach on successive years (1956-57); he later played at Jazz City in Los Angeles opposite such stars as Billie Holiday and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and in the summer of 1960, was with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars.
Clearly, Sleet has played with some excellent musicians, but with Messrs. Heath, Kelly, Cobb and Carter he is really in “fast company,” a fact acknowledged in the title of his only written contribution to the date. (Says Keepnews: “I felt he could make it best in really major-league company, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that he did the job. And in the studio, there was no question as to who the leader was – which is a tribute to the sidemen here as well as to Don.”)
JIMMY HEATH, of the Philadelphia Heaths is a good example of firmly matured – though still young – musician. In his early, alto-playing days, a close affinity to Charlie Parker earned him the nickname of “Little Bird.” Now, having evolved his own way of speaking, he is able to be known simply and expressively as Jimmy Heath. Virility without harshness is one way of describing Jimmy’s tenor work, and it’s a conception that fits well with Sleet’s
The rhythm section contains2/3 of Miles’ supporting trio. WYNTON KELLY is perfection personified: not an in human perfection, however, but a very emotional one; and one that never bores. It’s simply that consistency is expected from Wynton by now, and he never disappoints. JIMMY COB had a difficult chair to fill when he replaced Philly Joe Jones in the Davis group. He has benefited tremendously from his years with Miles. Now everyone with ears is a beneficiary of Cobb’s. The bass position is handled by a young man now eliciting very much the same kind of praise as Cobb and Kelly’s section-mate, Paul Chambers, did when he first came on the scene. RON CARTER, besides fulfilling his basic role, contributes two bowed solos (on Brooklyn Bridge and Fast Company) that demonstrate unusual dexterity and invention.
The set has an overall balance that would do justice to a Ringling Brothers wire-walker. Tenorman Clifford Jordan contributed the unison swinger, Brooklyn Bridge, and the minor-key courtroom drama, The Hearing (another of Clifford’s several “strong-telling” compositions). The standards are represented by Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise, swung in a good groove; Secret Love, liltingly stated by Sleet; and But Beautiful, sketched by Jordan, which is lovingly played in ballad tempo. The blues are accounted for by Sleet’s Fast Company and Heath’s All Members.
Jazz at its best is an honest music. What it expresses can often be very educational. I hope that, besides turning the spotlight on an extremely bright new trumpet talent, this album enlightens some pinched thinkers on both sides of the racial fence. (Then arrow Negro is not alone in his dismissal of most white musicians.) Everyone is aware of his own identification with different groups: racial, ethnic, religious, geographical, social, professional, political etc. These classifications divide us in some cases and bring us together in others; but we should never forget that there is one place where we are all together. In the human race, we are all members.
Other outstanding JAZZLAND LPs include:
Glidin’ Along – Benny Green, with Johnny Griffin – JLP 43 & Stereo 943S
A Story Tale – Clifford Jordan and Sonny Red – JLP 40 & Stereo 940S
Junior Mance Trio at the Village Vanguard – JLP 41 & Stereo 941S
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios
Cover design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
(producers of Riverside Records )
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York