Saturday, November 1, 2008


Bandleader and Saxophonist Oliver NelsonDear Oliver Nelson,

Monday I received The Blues and the Abstract Truth Take 2. Pianist Bill Cunliffe recorded the album. This was the first time I heard him. The liner notes discussed why Cunliffe made the album, but offered little about the pianist career. So, I googled him.

I discovered the pianist was born in Andover, Mass. He attended Duke University, and studied with pianist Mary Lou Williams. In 1989, he won the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Pianist Award. He toured with the Buddy Rick Big Band, and performed with Frank Sinatra. Blue and the Abstract Truth Take 2 is Cunliffe’s 14th album. After I read about Cunliffe, I did some background work on you.

I learned your brother played with trumpeter Cootie Williams. Your sister was a pianist, and you started on the sax at 11. You made six albums for Prestige. Then your classic Blues and the Abstract Truth for Impulse Records. That album increased your stock. Oliver I have to be honest. I only own two of your 18 albums Blues and the Abstract Truth, and Screamin’ the Blues, which made you 48 years ago.

You played the tenor and alto; Eric Dolphy played alto and the bass clarinet; Roy Haynes worked the drums. I bet you guys were smoking so much the neighbors called the fire department. Oliver do you know Cunliffe? Have any of your peers heard him? If not, you should get a copy of Take 2, and encourage your friends to do likewise. Cunliffe is a straight to the point pianist. As a leader, the man runs a tight ship. He kept his band on course.

Playing the songs from the original Blues and the Abstract was a huge endeavor, but Cunliffe succeeded. He made a few changes. He used a trombonist instead of a bass clarinetist. He tacked on two originals Port Authority and Mary Lou’s Blues. I wonder if your spirit was at the session coaching the band. They sounded so inspired Oliver when you buy the Take 2 pay close attention to Cunliffe’s take of Stolen Moments, and Hoe Down.

On Stolen Moments, trombonist Andy Marten and alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton cruise throughout their solos. On Hoe Down, Cunliffe, and trumpeter Terrell Stafford raced through the changes like competing in a triathlon. Oliver, I really enjoyed Blues and the Abstract Truth Take 2. I believe you will as well.
--Charles L. Latimer
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