FATS NAVARRO featured with the TADD DAMERON Band
(Classics of Modern Jazz, Vol. 1)
Fats Navarro (tp) Allan Eager (ts) Rudy Williams (as) (on Side 1, #3 and 4; Side 2, #2 and 3 only) Tadd Dameron (p) Curly Russell (b) Kenny Clarke (drs)
Recorded Summer and Fall, 1948
Anthropology (3:38) (Gillespie-Parker)
Lady Be Good (3:09) (George & Ira Gershwin)
The Squirrel (4:00) (Tadd Dameron)
Our Delight (4:02) (Tadd Dameron)
Good Bait (4:56) (Dameron-Basie)
Dameronia (5:11) (Tadd Dameron)
Tadd Walk (4:27) (Tadd Dameron)
From the early-Forties incubators of Minton’s and Monroe’s, the blossoming modern movement migrated downtown to 52nd Street in the mid-Forties. By 1949, however, the Three Deuces was the only modern jazz club left on The Street. Together with Jimmy Ryan’s and its Dixielanders it held the fort in a losing battle against strip tease joints and Chinese restaurants.
Meanwhile, modern jazz was getting more popular and it moved to Broadway. The Royal Roost, opposite what is now the Warner Theatre, was a restaurant specializing in Chicken-in-the-Basket. In 1948, a jazz policy was tentatively introduced and soon was entrenched on a full-time basis. The Roost (referred to by press agents as the “Metropolitan Bopera House”) became one of the most successful jazz clubs in New York. It closed only when its owners decided to move across and up Broadway to Bop City. This was a mistake, for although the Roost was not what you would call a small club, it did have an intimate, relaxed feeling which Bop City never could match.
The important musicians played at the Roost: the orchestras of Gillespie, Herman and Basie (featuring Wardell Gray); the small groups of Parker and Monk; and the Miles Davis nine-piece. One of the combos to appear extensively at the club was Tadd Dameron’s; it was also one of the best. The nucleus included the leader-arranger at the piano; Curley Russell, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums; Allen Eager, tenor sax; and the remarkable Fats Navarro on trumpet. At various times, the quintet became a sextet through the addition of such as Wardell Gray, Milt Jackson, or Rudy Williams. Featuring for the most part Dameron’s functional arrangements of his own lines, the group was a strong refutation of the silly notion, then being advanced, that modern jazz didn’t swing.
The material on this album was recorded in 1948 by Dameron groups on the job, presumably in connection with late-night broadcasts. The limitations of air time are not as drastic as those of the 78 rpm record. Therefore, although these performances could not be extended like today’s LP recordings, they are longer than the average commercial recording of that time and give the soloists a chance to stretch out a bit.
Dameron underplayed his role as a soloist, for he knew this was not his forte. He preferred to concentrate on a team role as a catalytic ‘composer.’ On many of the 78s his groups recorded, he didn’t solo at all. Here he does, but limits himself, giving the lion’s share of the space to the horns.
Allen Eager was probably the brightest star among the younger tenor men around New York at the time. Dexter Gordon had returned to California, Stan Getz had not yet reached any prominence and Wardell Gray was just coming on the scene. In Dameron’s group, Eager was at the top of his game and a match for any of them. His inspiration was clearly Lester Young. This is evident throughout but most apparent in the similarity between phrases in his Lady Be Good solo and ideas Lester played on Lady Be Good with Jones-Smith, Inc. in 1936. Eager was not merely an imitator, however. He had his own interpretation of Pres’ style and already other elements, like Charlie Parker, were changing it more. Whatever he played swung with a happy, light-footed quality and pure-toned beauty. His interior time was equal to his fine overall swing. Many a night in the Roost, he had us ready to get up and start dancing along the bar.
The late Fats Navarro was the most important soloist of the group. So often an artist must die before his works are appreciated. In Navarro’s case, this was not so. He was acknowledged by musicians as a tremendous latent during his lifetime and his records were well received by the jazz public. Perhaps the great tragedy was that Fats did not appreciate himself enough for if he had stayed healthy, he would have had no trouble fining employment. In today’s jazz boom, he would either have had his own group of at the very least been a prominent sideman with a recording contract of his own. His passing at the age of 26 does increase the importance of his recordings. Since he made relatively few (although they were consistently good), the value of any previously undiscovered work – such as these sides – becomes even greater.
Fats’ style was precise, symmetrical, soaring and lyrical. It was also well0night impeccable; and this was not because he played it safe, although his playing was less intricate than Gillespie’s. His surging power even made itself felt in his muted work.
As an influence, Navarro was important almost immediately after he first made his presence felt in the mid-1940s Billy Eckstine band. Kenny Dorham was affected early in his career and you could hear Fats in Red Rodney too. Then, of course, came Clifford Brown and through his Navarro has indirectly influenced so many of the young trumpeters playing today.
Rudy Williams, who was playing tenor sax with Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans at the age of 16, back in the late ‘30s, is another musician who died too young. A fishing boat accident took his life in the summer of 1954. His recordings were few: some solos with the Sultans; a 1944 date with Don Byas and one with Babs Gozales in 1947 (both on alto sax); a 1951 session on baritone sax with Benny Green. Williams had a substantial talent, albeit an erratic one. Even in the space of the four selections which include him here, this holds true. His alto was a colloidal solution of Parker and pre-Parker playing.
One of the most ubiquitous bassist of the middle and late ‘40s was Curly Russell. He and the master-drummer Kenny Clarke comprised a powerful rhythm team with a solid bottom and a loose-joined top.
Five of the seven numbers here are by Dameron: The Squirrel, a medium blues with a very rhythmically oriented theme; Our Delight, with its delightful out-chorus (one of Tadd’s typically expert combinations of rhythm and harmony allowing much melodic invention); Dameronia, and interpretion of a Thelonious Monk song (with a different, simpler bridge but with Tadd quoting from Monk’s original melody in his solo); Tadd Walk, a swift promenade with razor-sharp Eager (he lets you know what day they are walking on right at the start of his solo) and fantastically long-lined Navarro(that third chorus!); Good Bait, one of Tadd’s most durable lines (for example, it was recorded by Dizzy Gillespie in the ‘40s and by John Coltrane in 1959), with Eager demonstrating that in 1948 they knew how to be funky without making a travesty of it.
Like Good Bait, the two remaining selections are quintet tracks. Anthropology, the Parker-Gillespie collaboration on the I Got Rhythm changes, features four-bar exchanges between Navarro and Eager as well as their regular solo spots. The riff on what is recognizably Lady Be Good is similar to what Coleman Hawkins has recorded as Rifftide and Thelonious Monk as Hackensack. It was very much in vogue during the late ‘40s and a good jumping-off place for blowing.
Like six seeds in a pod, the men who made this music have been scattered to the winds. Navarro and Williams are dead. Eager, whose dichotomy of personality has kept him in and out of music, is now driving sports cars at Sebring, etc. Russell, who failed to keep up with the technical advances of his fellow bassists, is lost in the obscurity of the Bronx, reportedly driving a taxi after having sung to rock ’n roll gigs in the late Fifties.
Only two remain vitally involved with music. Clarke, who moved to France in 1956, is an integral part of the Paris picture, playing with Bud Powell and others. Dameron, off the scene from 1958 to 1961, is once again contributing his great mind to jazz, as anyone who has heard his scorings for strings on Blue Mitchell’s “Smooth as the Wind” on Riverside (RLP 367) can testify.
IN essence, although Tadd is to be considered still very much in the midst of his musical career, the contributions of most of the others heard here lie in the past. But it was, in many ways, a glorious past. And this reminder of that period of time forms a fitting beginning for Jazzland’s “Classics of Modern Jazz” series.
Album design; KEN DEARDOFF
Mastered, 1961, by Plaza Sound Studios
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
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