OSCAR PETTIFORD: Last Recordings by the Late Great Bassist
Classics of Modern Jazz, Volume 2
Oscar Pettiford (b) with –
On Two Little Pearls: Erik Nordstrom (ts) Louis Hjulmand (vib) Jan Johansson (p)
On There Will Neve Be Another You: Hjulmand, Johansson
On Blue Brothers: Hjulmand, only
On Willow Weep for Me: Johansson only
On other four selections: Nordstrom; Hjulmand; Johansson; Allan Botchinsky (tp) Jorn Elniff (drs)
Recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark; on July 5 & 6, 1960 and (*) August 22, 1959
Montmartre Blue Out (6:45) (Oscar Pettiford)
Laverne Walk (5:15) (Oscar Pettiford)
Two Little Pearls (5:40) (Oscar Pettiford)
Blue Brothers (*) (4:00) (Louis Hjulmand)
Why Not? That’s What? (7:20) (Oscar Pettiford)
There Will Never Be Another You (*) (5:48) (Gordon-Warren)
My Little Cello (3:35) (Oscar Pettiford)
Willow Weep for Me (3:00) (Ann Ronell)
(Although this material was as recently as 1959 and ’60, and even though it finds Oscar Pettiford in the company of European musicians whose names mean little or nothing to American listeners, it seems quite accurate to make this album part of Jazzland’s “Classics of Modern Jazz” series. For these recordings, made in the city that he considered his home base during the final year and more of his life, are among the very last selections by a man who – as Ira Gitler points out elsewhere on this liner – must be recognized as a jazz figure of major importance and influence.)
(In addition, several factors combine to make these excellent display pieces and examples of various aspects of Pettiford. There is the varying instrumentation, from sextet down to duet, enabling the bassist to play a variety of roles: from rhythm-section member to featured soloist and melodic-lead instrument. There is the fact that five of these eight compositions are his own. Furthermore, several points are simultaneously made by the very fact that he was playing here with young Swedish and Danish musicians. Their natural tendency to look up to him and lean on him – Jorn Elniff, the drummer here, ahs been quoted as saying of playing with Pettiford: “there seem to be no problems … he takes care of everything and you just have to follow him” – rends to put Oscar in the forefront, and it is always a pleasure to have his wonderously rich bass sound and style particularly emphasized. It is also safe to assume that these young man are, in the presence of this true jazz giant, playing up to or even beyond their normal best. And, in leading them, Pettiford is presented in a rile that he certainly filled often and should be long remembered for – the discoverer, leader, encourager, and mentor of new and potential talent.)
After coming to Europe in 1958 on a concert tour, Oscar Pettiford made the decision to remain there. He worked in France and Germany, and in June of ’59 arrived in Copenhagen. From that Summer until early in ’60 he and Stan Getz worked together there at the Café Montmartre. Jan Johansson, from Sweden, who Pettiford called “comparable to any of the best pianists in jazz,” was in that group. Vibist Louis Hjulmand, a Dace, had worked at the same club with Oscar just before that. The other three men heard here include the Swedish tenorman, Erik Nordstrom, and two other young Danish jazzmen, trumpeter Allan Botchinsky and drummer Jorn Elniff. All are in their twenties and highly regarded by the not-at-all uncritical Scandinavian jazz fans.
Four numbers are by the full sextet. Montmartre Blues was a signature theme for groups at the Café; the added “Out” expresses regret at the closing of the place. Like the other Pettiford tunes here, this had not been previously recorded. It includes solos by tenor, vibes, muted trumpet and chorded piano, all enveloped in a secondary theme stated by Pettiford. Laverne Walk, composed shortly before Oscar left the States, was named for the wife of a friend. A bluesy bass introduction leads into an Ellington-flavored 32-bar theme. Why Not? That’s What! Has what might be termed a response title – intended as an affirmative answer to Miles Davis’ cynical So What? Pettiford noted that “the title contains a message for Miles on behalf of Paul Chambers and myself” and the final solo, by Oscar, certainly confirms the truth of his title. The last sextet number was composed in early 1959 and named for Pettiford’s small son, Cello. It has a 36-bar structure and solos for all except drums.
Two Little Pearl, a ballad, was composed for a concert in Pasadena in 1953, but remained untitled until the birth of Pettiford’s twin daughters (Cellina and Celeste) late in 1959. It is played by a quartet (without trumpet or drums), but the emphasis is on piano, vibraphone and bass, which has been the entire instrumentation on a ’59 date made by Pettiford, Hjulmand and Johansson from which two of the selections included here were drawn. Of these, the standard There Will Never Be Another You is a trio number, while Hjulmand’s Blue Brothers is a vibes and bass duet. Despite being 12-bar and minor-keyed, it is not a blues, but features a call and response pattern in the spirit of the Danish medieval ballad. Finally, there is another standard, Willow Weep for Me, a particular favorite of Oscar’s, played her eas a bass solo with piano accompaniment.
As Erik Wiedemann (form whose liner notes for the original Danish release of these recordings much of the foregoing material has been drawn) phrased it: It is a rare experience to hear European jazz musicians play with such abandon and spirit. In this respect, too, Pettiford’s presence on the European jazz scene has made itself felt.
On September 8, 1960, twenty-two days short of his thirty-eight birthday, Oscar Pettiford succumbed to a mystifying infection. Jazz has given up too many of its great talents too early in the game. If the causes are varied, most of them can be grouped directly under the hard life to which the dedicated jazzman gives himself. O.P., as he was affectionately known, had collided with one such cause in the form of an auto accident in Austria two years previously, and a resultant skull fracture was at first thought to have something to do with the final tragedy, until Danish doctors attributed death to a “polio-like virus” that began with a strep throat.
When his life ended in Denmark, Pettiford had come a long way – musically as well as geographically – from his birthplace on an Indian reservation in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Oscar was one of the great bassists of all time, both for his own playing and as an influence. He took up the reins after Jimmy Blanton and paved the way for Paul Chambers. He was a vital part of such important units as Duke Ellington’s band and Dizzy Gillespie’s first 52nd Street combo, but he was more than just a great bassist. Pettiford was organizer, innovator and writer.
When he led a group, whether a sextet or the 13-piece orchestra he fronted in 1957, he was never a mere figurehead. His outfits always represented his personality – and his writing talents. One true measure of a composition’s merit is its being played by other groups; and O.P.’s Bohemia After Dark, Swingin’ Til the Girls Come Home and Something for You (the latter also known and recorded as Max Making Wax and Chance It), all typical of his ability with a melody, are well-known selections in the jazz repertoire at large.
As an innovator, Pettiford brought his compelling bass lines to the amplified cello. He was also responsible for the unison playing by trumpet and tenor in the Gillespie 52nd Street quintet which set the style for the bop era and much of the small-group modern jazz that followed.
O.P. was one of the most continually interesting soloists the bass has ever had. He was equally tremendous in the section. He combined sound and speed without sacrificing either and above all he was a complete musician who would have been a valuable storyteller on any instrument he chose to play.
Oscar’s interest in jazz went beyond his personal creative efforts. He liked to instruct and mold young musicians. His impact on the Scandinavian players (lacking in experience with authentic American jazzmen) with whom he is heard here, is a good example of this. Perhaps it was his background of growing up in the family band his father led from the 1920s into the ‘40s that gave him the incentive to impart his knowledge to others.
What Oscar Pettiford accomplished up to the time of his death, the musical legacy with which he enriched jazz and sured his place in our memory, is, at the same time, cause for feeling his loss acutely. He is missed.
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (JLP 964) and Monaural (JLP 64) form
The first volume in the Jazzland “Classic of Modern Jazz” series is –
Fats Navarro with the Tadd Dameron Band (JLP 50)
Other outstanding artists to be heard on Jazzland LPs include –
George Shearing and The Montgomery Brothers (JLP 55; Stereo 955)
Thelonious Monk, with John Coltrane (JLP 46; Stereo 946)
Nat Adderley: Naturally (JLP 47; Stereo 947)
Red Garland: Bright and Breezy (JLP 48; Stereo 948) / The Nearness of You (JLP 62; Stereo 962)
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin Quintet:
Tough Tenors (JLP 30; Stereo 930) / Lookin’ at Monk (JLP 39; Stereo 939) /
Griff & Lock (JLP 42; Stereo 942) /Blues Up and Down (JLP60; Stereo 960)
Junior Mance Trio:
Soulful Piano of Junior Mance (JLP 31; Stereo 931) / At the Village Vanguard (JLP 41; Stereo 941) / Big Chief (JLP 53; Stereo 953)
Produced by Debut Records (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Mastered by Neal Ceppos (Plaza Sound Studios)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
(Producers of Riverside Records)
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York