Big Chief!: JUNIOR MANCE TRIO
Junior Mance (p) Jimmy Rowser (b) Paul Gusman (drs)
Recorded at New York City; August 1, 1961
Big Chef! (4:16) (Junior Mance)
Love for Sale (4:55) (Cole Porter)
The Seasons (3:30) (Sara Cassey)
Filet of Soul (4:27) (Larry Gales)
Swish (3:38) (Junior Mance)
Summertime (4:09) (George and Ira Gershwin)
Ruby, My Dear (5:55) (Thelonious Monk)
Little Miss Gail (4:45) (Junior Mance)
Atlanta Blues (5:51) (W. C. Handy)
The New Star Pianist award in Down Beat’s 1961 International Critics’ Poll was won by JUNIOR MANCE. As usual, the award was an indication that its recipient had been playing very well for a long time. Recognition in jazz, when it comes, generally is substantially overdue.
It must be noted that Mance came to this kind of recognition as part of a general trend which saw Cannonball Adderey replace Johnny Hodges in the critics’ affections the year before, and in this same year saw two new vocalists take first place in, respectively, the general and New Star divisions: Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. The operative word, obviously, is Soul.
This is not in any way to belittle Mance’s stature, but merely to recognize that in a day when the most fashionable type of jazz was coming from, say, the West Coast, Junior probably would not have come close. But even if the award were t be taken as meaning primarily that he is the New Star among Soul pianists, that in itself would be a large-sized achievement (because the ranks of young musicians who insist devoutly that they went to church every Sunday during their youth is swelling to a proportion that must certainly warm the hearts of youth workers everywhere.
Soon, though, the winnowing process will set in – or perhaps it is even going on already – and those players who have a legitimate contribution to make in the style will be separated from each other, I have no doubt (his boyish nickname notwithstanding) as to which side Julian C. Mance, Jr., will be listed on.
That Junior has been able to take what he needed from various styles of jazz is nowhere better illustrated than by the names of two composers whose music he chooses to play here: W. C. Handy and Thelonious Monk. Being as contemporary as today while simultaneously reminding us of the tradition has always been the mark of stature in a jazzman. And that (as partially symbolized by his use of works of those two composers) is exactly what Mance does. I hear no use of convention for the sake of convention, nor any use of cliché. What I do hear is a great technical facility which, almost by itself, raises the level of Mance’s playing into completely personal expression.
There are, basically, two ways to treat a piece of music. One is to adapt the player’s technique to the requirements of the player. Both methods have adherents among our finest musicians: for example, I think Sonny Rollins does the first and John Coltrane the second. Mance does the second too, but there is an important difference between the way in which he does it and the way in which some self-consciously funky pianists manage to turn everything they touch into a piece of church music, often to the extent that it is difficult for one to see why they bother playing standards in the first place.
Junior, who shares most musicians’ suspicion of critics and criticism, feels that perhaps he has been put into a rather too all-inclusive bag, along with people who don’t really belong together. The best proof that he is right, I think, is to be found on his work on Sara Cassey’s lovely The Seasons. This young composer (whose best-known and most widely-recorded work is War Blue Stream), has provided Mance with an impressionist melody whose requirements would be far outside the scope of those musicians whose Spillane-like toughness invariably shows an obverse side as sloppily sentimental as anything played in the Grill of the Roosevelt Hotel.
Junior, too, feels that the time has come for weeding-out, so perhaps it is time to stop viewing him as a member of a group and look specifically at what he is doing. At one time, he was strictly a boogie-woogie pianist impressed with Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. Of course, it would be extremely difficult for anyone brought up around Chicago’s South Side to escape the influence of the blues, and Junior, obviously, has done anything but escape it. He worked at one time with Ammons’ son Gene, and after coming out of the army was a member of Cannonball Adderley’s first quintet. Perhaps the most fruitful experience was the time Junior spent with dizzy Gillespie; in a profession in which the master-craftsman-to-apprentice, word-of-mouth teaching situation is the best one, to work in such circumstances is invaluable. For a time after that, he played with the Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis-Johnny Griffin Quintet. Larry Gales ws the bassist in the group then, which is how Mance came t know and like Gales’ Filet of Soul (a title which was bound to appear sooner or later). Since then, Junior has formed his own trio, and he, bassist Jimmy Rowser and drummer Paul Gusman were a regular working unit at the time of this recording.
Junior has three original pieces on the record – big Chief!, which gives the set its title; Swish; and Little Miss Gail – and al of them show, to varying degrees the blues influence which permeates his work. But an even better appreciation of his method can be gained from the four standards.
Cole Porter’s Love For Sale is taken at a furious clip, with Junior’s characteristic blues figures inserted in what would ordinarily be the rests, which preserves the nature of the piece and at the same time provides a place for Junior’s own stylistic bent. Gershwin’s Summertime uses a characteristic Mance bass figures, and emerges even more thoroughly saturated in blues than it was originally. But for me, the most interesting work on the album is on the compositions of the two men mentioned in the beginning, Monk and Handy.
It must be difficult for any pianist to play a Monk piece without constantly hearing in his head the unique Monk sonorities and harmonies, for the way the composer plays his pieces is so much a part of them. But on Ruby, My Dear (which is, with ‘Round Midnight and Crepescule With Nellie, one of the three loveliest ballads of our time) Junior preserves the feeling, even to the stride piano figures while managing to preserve his own individuality. The middle, faster section is pure Mance.
Handy’s Atlanta Blues is, for me, the delight of the album. As with most of Handy’s compositions, it is a fairly formal work in several sections, and in Junior’s hands, it becomes a happy, sunny piece replete with echoes of everything from How Long Blues to Django. I tis long past the time when Mance has to establish credentials, but if they were needed, his work on this piece would do it.
It is nice to know, not only on Atlanta Blues but on th entire set, that one can have what they call soul and still be happy.
Mance’s other Jazzland albums include:
The Soulful Piano of Junior Mance (JLP 30; Stereo 930S)
Junior Mance Trio at The Village Vanguard (JLP41; Stereo 941S)
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (JLP 953S) and Monaural (JLP 53) form.
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos: STEVE SCHAPIRO
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc,
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York