When Charles Mingus played with Thad Jones in Detroit he wrote a letter to Metronome editor Bill Coss who published it in the magazine. His rave for Thad contained a most provocative description: “Bartok with valves for a pencil guided by God.”
In August 1954 Mingus put his money where his mouth was when he recorded Thad as a leader for the Debut label. Three Jones_ originals made their debut on that date, including “Bitty Ditty” and “Elusive.” March 1955 marked a second date for Debut and the first appearance on record of “One More,” the title tune of this CD. If Thad wasn’t Bartok he certainly was a very impressive trumpeter who had gotten Dizzy Gillespie_s message but was using it in a way that informed, but never took over, his own very personal expression. What few us knew at this time that a pencil, guided by Thad’s very own hand (and God’s) was to be instrumental in bringing about a greater awareness of him in the music world, particularly when he and drummer Mel Lewis founded the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
In writing these notes for what I consider to be one of the outstanding sessions of this year or any year I wanted to get some thoughts from a few of the participants. After I had talked to three of them I flashed on the fact that I had done an article on Thad in the late 1960s when I was an associate editor at Downbeat. I took the ladder and climbed to where I could access the bound copies of the magazine on a top shelf. 1967 didn’t have it but on my second try, 1968 (February 22 to be exact), I found it. It was a revelation to read the comments of Joe Farrell, Mel and Thad because in so many instances what they were saying dovetailed with what I had just heard in my telephone conversations a couple of days before.
Mel Lewis (1968): “He writes the unexpected, interesting underparts, interesting jumps for the guys who are not playing lead. His placing of notes as opposed to the rests is never obvious. You can’t anticipate his charts. His whole rhythmic conception–the way everything falls–his use of space—it’s so beautiful to play from a drummer_s standpoint.”
Benny Golson (2004): “What I like about Thad is that he does the unexpected but somehow, knowing him, the anticipated. It keeps the music an adventure.”
Joe Farrell (1968): “First of all the way he voices for saxophones is very hip. He gets a brilliance out of the section that most arrangers don’t. His charts are not easy to play.”
Golson: “His music is a delight to play but it sure is hard.”
Farrell: “He is one of the true jazz writers. He is a real arranger writing for the band with a small group concept. It is written jazz–arranged jazz in the actual sense of the word.”
Jimmy Owens (2004): “From the very first night I rehearsed with the band I knew that Thad had a very special gift. He wrote his compositions for small band but the ones he wrote for the big band worked just as well for small band.”
Owens was a charter member of the Jones-Lewis band. “We rehearsed at Jim & Andy’s (the musicians’ watering-hole in that period) and then at Phil Ramone’s studio.”
All that started in December 1965. Disc jockey Alan Grant took Village Vanguard owner Max Gordon to one of the rehearsals and in February 1966 the band made its public debut at the club.
Owens: “Thad was an outstanding trumpet player with a keen harmonic sense. His writing was very unconventional because he was self-taught. Slide Hampton is another like that.”
Thad Jones (1968): “It was trial and error with me. As a matter of fact, the first arrangement I wrote, I wrote every horn in a different key. That was real freedom.” (Punctuated by his infectious laugh)
Jones was “13 or 14 years old.” He was playing trumpet in his native Pontiac, Michigan with the Arcadia Club Band led by a trumpeter-uncle. Older brother Hank was on piano.
Jones: “I was more interested in background actually, at one time, than I was in solo work. It naturally led to my interest in harmony and progressions, in how they were able to get this type of sound behind that type of solo, and why…
“I have always been interested in the overall sound rather than any one particular sound. What I strive for is uniformity in sound — an overall personal thing. I think of the musicians personally. You have to gear your writing to two different people and still try to retain your overall technical sound.”
When IPO thought of recording a collection of Thad Jones’ music, they called on Mike Patterson, a composer/arranger who has written extensively for television (an Emmy Award-winner); feature films; symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles; Woody Herman, Marc Copland, Gene Bertoncini, Roland Hanna and Phil Woods; and for his own quintet and big band. He holds a Masters degree from the Eastman School of Music and is a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music.
“When IPO asked me to adapt Thad’s compositions for this project I was honored. I am a real Thad fan. His music, especially harmonically and rhythmically, is so solid. It has the blues, bebop and strong gospel roots.”
What Patterson has done is write for this ensemble (and what an ensemble) without losing the spirit of the big band. That’s the way Thad wrote -— very translatable — and Mike did the job like the seasoned pro that he is. “Subtle Rebuttal,” “Kids Are Pretty People,” “One More,” “Bossa Nova Ova” and “H&T Blues” are (more or less) transcriptions from Thad’s small group recordings; “Thad’s Pad” was originally done by a Hank Jones trio; “Mean What You Say,” “A Child Is Born,” “The Farewell,” “Consummation” and “The Waltz You Swang For Me” are reworkings of big band charts.
The aforementioned ensemble needs no formal introduction. James Moody, tenor and soprano saxes; Benny Golson, tenor sax; Frank Wess, tenor sax, alto sax and flute; Jimmy Owens, trumpet and flugelhorn; Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombone; Hank Jones, piano; Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Mickey Roker, drums; these are names that speak for themselves. There are many connections to Thad. Owens (as mentioned before), Brookmeyer, Davis and Hank were charter members of Jones-Lewis. Hanna took over the piano bench when Hank left. Wess recorded with Thad for the Period label in 1957 and again for Roulette in 1960. Other alliances, among and between, were also in play: Moody and Owens; and the Philadelphians, Golson and Roker. The entire cast enjoyed one another’s company within the glow created by playing Thad’s music.
“Subtle Rebuttal” comes from that Roulette date. It’s an airy, darting theme with solo contributions from Jones, Golson, Owens and Wess’ flute. Roker brushes the theme back in.
“Thad’s Pad” was done by Hank for Norman Granz’s Clef label in 1953 with Johnny Smith, guitar; and Ray Brown, bass. To my knowledge it has not been recorded since. Its Dameronian theme is scored to perfection by Patterson. Solos: Golson, Brookmeyer, Owens; and Jones, trading “fours” with Roker and Davis. Hank also has a hand in the bridge of the theme.
“Kids Are Pretty People” (like “The Waltz You Swang For Me”) was first recorded by the Jones-Lewis band for Solid State in 1968. Hank prefaces the theme, unaccompanied, and also solos following Golson and Owens.
“One More,” a blues with some Bird-like figures, provides a stage for Moody, Wess and Golson to converse with their tenors, individually and collectively in an escalating romp. Roker, who sets the pace at the beginning of the number, returns to drum back into the final written statement.
Hank and the rhythm section set “Mean What You Say” in motion before the floating theme is revealed by the horns. This piece was first done by Thad and Pepper Adams in a quintet for Milestone in 1966 (the same date that produced “Bossa Nova Ova” and “H&T Blues”) and was also recorded by the big band in its maiden outing for Solid State in the same year. Moody is the main soloist. Davis’ fat notes and Roker’s dancing brushes are also in evidence.
“A Child Is Born,” perhaps Thad’s most played and recorded song, is given special treatment. When Hanna was in the big band he always opened the tender, sensitive ballad unaccompanied. Here he does it with the introduction lifted from the version he recorded for Tributaries–Reflections on Tommy Flanagan (IPO 1004). The five-minute mini-concerto creates a meditative space before Owens introduces the nurturing melody and then improvises over the background horns before Hank comes in to close.
Thad’s lines sing out with saudade-ity on “Bossa Nova Ova.” Brookmeyer is first up, then Owens and Jones. The interaction between soloists and ensemble horns adds great flavor to the overall effect.
Hank sets the stage for “The Waltz You Swang For Me” with some elegantly funky thoughts. The theme is an example of those “gospel roots” mentioned by Patterson. Moody, on soprano, is the featured soloist, using down-home homilies and oblique flights. After the theme reemerges he and Brookmeyer engage in a colloquy that winds and wends off the dance floor.
Hank is once more the actuator on “H&T Blues” (could that stand for Hank&Thad?), a simple but effective line that easily could have served as the opening music for a private eye, TV show or movie in the 1960s. Brookmeyer, backed only by Davis, treads softly; Wess tiptoes in, shadowed by Golson; and Davis walks alone, soon joined again by Brookmeyer.
The story of “Consummation” is an interesting one. Owens left Thad and Mel in June 1966 after having been there from the beginning. He never got to record with the band, but in April 1969, for a concert at Ithaca College in upstate New York, Thad was asked by Stephen Brown, the head of the school’s jazz program, to write a piece for its jazz band to play. He wrote “Consummation” to feature Jimmy as guest soloist. Here, 35 years later, he is again in the spotlight. Jimmy interprets the theme beautifully and improvises with great expression, ably assisted by Hank’s accompaniment and brief solo spot. Consider it consummated, as in accomplished or attained. (Incidentally, Thad and Mel recorded it for Blue Note in 1970.)
“The Farewell,” from Thad’s “Suite For Pops,” was first recorded by the band in 1975 for Horizon. It shouts joyously with back-beat heat from the jump and the solos from Owens, Wess and Jones continue the feeling within the groove. In the out chorus, Brookmeyer is also a presence. As befitting a work dedicated to Louis Armstrong, Jimmy gives the goodbye the final flourish.
To close, Hank plays “Monk’s Mood,” taught to him, note-for-note, directly by Monk in the 1940s. It was one of Thad’s favorite songs and here it is a dedication from Hank to Thad.
Thad’s music lives on. When he said his farewell to the band in 1979 and moved to Copenhagen, The Mel Lewis Orchestra continued to play and record his music. When Mel passed in 1990 the band eventually became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, appearing at the club in the Monday tradition and still playing Thad’s charts. With this exceptional exposition of Jonesiana from an array of all-star musicians more people, musicians and laymen alike, will be made aware of Thad’s greatness.
As for myself, every time I play this CD, beginning to end (to quote James Brown), “I feel gooooood!!!”