7 February 2007

Saxophones galore!

By Tapani Lausti

Coleman Hawkins/Zoot Sims/Phil Woods et al: Saxes Inc. Arrangements by Bob Prince. Lone Hill Jazz 2007 (Original Warner Bros. recording 1959). [Bonus album included in the reissue CD: Jimmy Cleveland/Urbie Green/Frank Rehak et al: Trombone Scene (Original recording 1956).]

I had been looking for this gem of a recording, Saxes Inc., for some years, having lost my original vinyl copy of it. Indeed, having finally found this CD via internet, it arrived with a sticker saying: "For Professional Collectors: Difficult To Find Material Long Unavailable on CD."

The recording took place in New York in July-August 1959. At the time, I had just arrived in California for a school year as an exchange student and this record was one of the many excellent jazz albums I purchased during that year. I have often marvelled at the number of memorable albums recorded during 1959 and 1960.

This is a big band recording but without the brass sections, i.e. in addition to the rhythm section, the band consists of only saxophonists. The 13 saxophonists were among the cream of the time. Coleman Hawkins appears in fact on only two tracks but the list of musicians is impressive all the way through. The alto saxophonists are Phil Woods, Gene Quill and Herb Geller, the tenorists are, in addition to Hawkins, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Morty Lewis, Seldon Powell and Georgie Auld, the baritonists are Sol Schlinger and Gene Allen, and finally Hal McKusick plays the soprano sax. On some tracks Al Epstein replaces Gene Allen. The rhythm section consists of Dick Katz, piano, George Duvivier, bass, and Osie Johnson, drums.

The arranger Bob Prince started writing the arrangements only after he had chosen the musicians. This is a good way to feel inspired by the personal sounds of each musician. Also, the tracks chosen reflect the history of jazz saxophone. "Four Brothers" was originally made famous by the saxophone section of the Woody Herman orchestra, Zoot Sims having been in that section with Stan Getz. The latter starred in the Herman version of "Early Autumn". On Saxes Inc. version of this ballad the solo space is shared between Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Phil Woods.

Three Lester Young compositions bring back memories of earlier versions. They are "Sometimes I'm Happy", "Tickle-Toe" and "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid". On the last one Coleman Hawkins plays a solo, followed by Georgie Auld. The other track with Coleman Hawkins is the ballad "The Gypsy". Dizzy Gillespie composition "Night in Tunisia" is, of course, connected with the memory of Charlie Parker. It was chosen for Phil Woods and Gene Quill who had been featuring it together in clubs.

One of the saxophonists is quoted as saying: "Nobody missed the brass."

If the sound of this CD whets your saxophone appetite, I want to mention another one called The Sax Section. This Columbia album was recorded in 1956. The sesssion was described as Jazz Workshop and it used a smaller number of saxophonists. Most tracks were composed by Al Cohn who was also the arranger. There are other familiar names from Saxes Inc.: Zoot Sims, Gene Quill and Sol Schlinger. Both Saxes Inc. and The Sax Section have on many tracks a distinct Count Basie feeling, especially in Cohn's arrangement of Basie's "Shorty George".

The most stunning "saxophones only" recording to my mind, however, is Benny Carter's Further Definitions, an Impulse recording from 1961. The other alto saxophonist in addition to Carter himself was Phil Woods. The tenorists were Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Rouse. The rhythm section consisted of Dick Katz, piano, Jimmy Garrison, bass, and Jo Jones, drums. The album has brilliant renditions, for instance, of "Honeysuckle Rose", "Crazy Rhythm" and "Cotton Tail".

The CD reissue has a bonus album, Additions to Further Definitions from 1966. Here Carter is joined by well-known West Coast saxophonists, altoist Bud Shank and tenorists Buddy Collette, Bill Perkins and Teddy Edwards.

There is also a Benny Carter album with ten other saxophonists: Tickle-Toe, arranged by Carter himself and Lalo Schifrin. This rare Vee Jay Recordings CD is from 1964. Most saxophonists are lesser known names but tenorists Plas Johnson and Buddy Collette are well-known.

I have in my collection one more saxophone summit recording: The Benny Carter All-Star Sax Ensemble from 1988, on Music Masters label. The other sax players on this date were altoist Herb Geller, tenorists Jimmy Heath and Frank Wess and the British baritonist Joe Temperley.

The tradition of such saxophone meetings goes back to the 1930s. In 1937 Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins were in Paris and recorded with their French counterparts, André Ekyan and Alix Combelle, along with the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. They recorded among other tunes, "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Crazy Rhythm".

As to the bonus album Trombone Scene which comes with Saxes Inc., the trombone players are Jimmy Cleveland, Urbie Green, Frank Rehak, Eddie Bert, Willie Dennis, Sonny Russo and Jimmy Knepper, plus Tom Mitchell on bass trombone.

Visit the Music section in the archive and see my list of favourite jazz CDs.


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