The Mode: SONNY RED
Quintet (*): Sonny Red (as) Grant Green (g) Barry Harris (p) George Tucker (b) Jimmy Cobb (drs)
New York; December 14, 1961
Quartet: Sonny Red (as) Cedar Walton (p) George Tucker (b) Jimmy Cobb (drs)
New York: May 29, 1961
Moon river (*) (6:08) (Mancini-Mercer)
I Like the Likes of You (4:19) (Duke-Harburg)
Super-20 (*) (5:32) (Sonny Red)
Bye, Bye, Blues (4:30) (Hamm-Bennett-Lown-Gray)
The Mode (*) (9:48) (Sonny Red)
Never, Never Land (6:31) (Comden, Green-Styne)
Ko-kee (4:12) (Sonny Red)
It has been an established fact for some time now that Detroit is one of the leading exporters of modern jazz musicians to New York, the jazz capital of the world. I remember receiving a letter, in the early 1950s, from many fine musicians like milt Jackson, Lucky Thompson and Julius Watkins had already been produced by the Motor City an how many others, like Howard McGhee, Wardell Gray and Frank Foster had developed there, even if they were not natives. He also mentioned some youngsters on the way up, adding, rather emphatically: “… and the well is not dry.”
These words were not more than a couple of years old when the mass migration by young Detroit musicians began. Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, Doug Watkins and Tommy Flanagan came and quickly established themselves as important members of the New York jazz fraternity. And the well was still not dry. Shortly thereafter, Louis Hayes, Pepper Adams, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris and Sonny Red Kyner added their talents to the New York melting pot.
Throughout the work of most of these men, varied though their styles may be, there runs a strong reminder of the Charley Parker – Dizzy Gillespie heritage which has affected Detroit musicians since the mid-‘40s. “Big D,” as it has sometimes been affectionately called, was a Bird-and-Dizzy town from the time the records of those giants were first widely distributed. (I don’t have the sales figures, but Al’s Record Mart used to sell Parker’s Dial 78s in record-braking amounts.)
Sylvester Kyner, Jr., known as Sonny Red, is squarely in the general tradition crated by Dizzy and Bird. His early influences also included Sonny Stitt, another non-native who nevertheless did some important playing in Detroit. I first learned of Sonny Red from Freddie Redd (no relation, of course), who had heard him on visit to Detroit in the early ‘50s. Sonny came to New York with Curtis Fuller in 1957 and, except for a period of illness from August, 1958 until about June of 1959, has been an active participant on the New York scene. Jazzland (JLP 32) and co-featured with Clifford Jordan in “A Story Tale” (JLP 40).
One of Sonny’s early Detroit associates was Barry Harris in whose combo he played from 1949-’52. In New York they renewed their friendship. Harris is one of the young jazzmen touted by my Michigan friend in the letter mentioned earlier. That was only the first on many instances in which he was highly praised before we in the East ever heard him play in person. As Riverside-Jazzland listeners know, since arriving in New York in 1960, Barry has lived up to the near-legendary reputation which preceded him. Here he enhances the quintet tracks with his swift, melodic single-line solos and sympathetic comping
Before you begin to think that Detroit is the only place producing jazz musicians of merit, let us consider Grant Green from St. Louis. He also arrive don the scene at the start of the ‘60s and immediately made it obvious that he was one of the important new guitarists. The horn-like single line of his solo work here is typically excellent and the ensemble sound he and Sonny achieve is as enjoyable as it is arresting.
Cedar Walton, from Dallas, has been active in New York since 1958 with J. J. Johnson, The Jazztet and, most recently, Art Blakey. His increased fluidity is a result of constant improvement which has turned a good player into one far above average.
The fine rhythm players also hail from a variety of places other than Detroit. Jimmy Cobb, best known for his sensitive swinging with Miles Davis, is originally from Washington, D.C., and Albert Heath, sometimes known to his friends as “Tootie,” is one of three celebrated brothers from Philadelphia, a city that has rivaled Detroit in turning out jazz men in the past five years. George Tucker, the strong, sure bassist on both the quartet and quintet tracks here, was born and raised in Palatka, Florida, but has been studying and playing in New York since 1948.
Whatever their origins, almost all these players are now considered practicing New Yorkers, part of the army of fine musicians available in various combinations of all sizes. Two groups are utilized here: the quintet and the quartet.
The unusual front line of alto saxophone and guitar is featured on the title tune. The Mode, written by Sonny, is self-explanatory title. The piece explores the modal style which Mils Davis has popularized among modern jazzmen via his “Kind of Blue” album. This is not Sonny’s first excursion into modal writing. He and Clifford Jordan play his Prints in “A Story Tale” and Nat Adderley has recorded Sonny’s Images in “Naturally” (Jazzland 47). In The Mode, the harmonic changes are fewer and more static than the average jazz original we have become used to. The soloists really get a chance to “stretch” and Sonny, Green ad Harris do just that here. Tucker has a walking solo that sings as it goes. Sonny’s haunted, lonely tone seems especially appropriate to the modal vein.
Another quintet track opens Side 1. This is a delightful interpretation of Henry Mancini’s Moon River from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Its insouciant theme is treated puckishly and all soloists make the most of its lovely chord structure. The third quintet selection is super-20, a blues by Sonny. Listen in particular to Jimmy Cobb’s sound and swing behind Barry Harris on this one.
The four quartet numbers have Heath on drums and Walton on piano, in place of Cobb and Harris respectively. Bye, Bye Blues bridges the gap between the ‘20s and the ‘60s. Sonny Red uses modern phrasing but does not fail to invest it with some of the old-time feeling inherent in the song. Julie Styne’s Never Never Land (from “Peter Pan” finds Sonny in a wishful, contemplative mood; I like the likes of You by Vernon Duke has him playful and winking; Ko-kee, his own blues, shows him plaintive, basic and authentically blue.
But then whatever Sonny Red does is authentic, for this is no jive cat out there looking for a gimmick. He has a flair for picking good old and new tuens which have not been overdone; his modal moments are thoughtfully taken; and when he plays the blues, as on Ko-kee, he illustrates the statement that says, “Jazz is not only a music but a way of life.”
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Mastered by NEAL CEPPOS
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (JLP959) and Monaural (JLP59) form
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc,
235 West 46th Street, New York 36 New York