Monday, December 24, 2007


Recently, my friend William, who gets really excited when music magazines publish their best-of-the-year-album-lists, asked me for my five favorite jazz albums I purchased in 2007. William said to include new releases as well as re-issues. His request was unusual because most music rags normally list at least 50 to 100 albums they deemed their best.

Why five I asked? Listing 50 to 100 would be too easy. Narrowing down the many jazz finds I purchased required thorough consideration, William said. Fair enough. I enjoyed the challenge although I wondered if William would think I'm nuts because Booker Ervin's "Exultation," Frank Strozier's "Cool, Calm, and Collected," and Steve Lacy's "The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy," re-issues I scored this year, didn't make the cut. I expect William to contact me soon. Finally, after thorough consideration, I selected the five jazz albums I listened to over an over.

1. David Murray
Scared Ground-Justin Time

Wow! This is the saxophonist 220th album. That has to be a world record. "Scared Ground" is a lean album. Murray and pianist Lafayette Gilchrist soloing on “Family Reunion” is still dancing in my ears. And vocalist Cassandra Wilson was the prefect fit for those eerie songs written by poet Ishmael Reed.

2. Kenny Cox
Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet-Blue Note

Two classic Detroit jazz albums (Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet and Multidirection) recorded in 1968 and 1969 re-issued on one disc. Pianist Kenny Cox, bassist Ron Brooks, saxophonist Leon Henderson, drummer Danny Spencer, and trumpeter Charles Moore did what’s expected from Detroit jazz pros. They sung from start to finish.

3. Red Garland
Red Alone-Prestige/Moodville

Recorded in the spring of 1960, Garland was in his element on this solo album, playing mostly standard love songs. This album feels like a love letter.

4. Ron Carter
Dear Miles-Blue Note

Bassist Ron Carter, pianist Stephen Scott, drummer Payton Crossley, and percussionist Roger Squitero reworked “My Funny Valentine,” “Seven Steps to Heaven,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” songs Davis turned into classics. The quartet made the standards sound brand new.

5. Lafayette Gilchrist
Lafayette Gilchrist3-Hyena

The Baltimore native fingers speed across the piano keys a la the late jazz pianist Don Pullen. Gilchrist is not your run-of-the-mill jazz pianist. The pianist brings his musical influences to the table. On this trio album, Gilchrist serves up a hearty portion of jazz mixed with Go Go and Hip Hop.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Have a seat Frank. Welcome to my blog. I’ve wanted to chat with you every since I listened to “Cool, Calm and Collected, the album you recorded in Chicago 47 years ago. Before I question you about the music on that recording, let me take your coat. Make yourself comfortable. Let me get those Sonny Criss albums out of the way. I was listening to them last night. You guys sound so much alike. We can rap about that later.

In July, a dear friend introduced me to your music. We were browsing through the jazz bins at Street Corner Records on 13 Mile and Southfield Road. I found an album you made with MJT+3. The band looked prim and dignified in those black business suits. I asked my friend about the MJT+3 because the cover photo reminded me of the dapper Modern Jazz Quartet.
“Have you every heard this group?”

“Yeah, they were a solid band. They made a handful of recording, but they only stayed together for a year, from 1959-1960.”

“They look like the MJQ.”

“The members are from Memphis”

“Is the album blues based?”

“No. But Frank Strozier, the alto player, plays the ballads and the blues so well he could make a motivational speaker sad.”

“Which one is Strozier?”

“He’s the white guy to the right of pianist Harold Mabern.”

“Strozier looks like a hair stylist. Is this album worth having?

“Yes. And you should get Strozier’s Cool, Calm and Collected. The ballads and blues on that date will blow you away.”

Frank, I want to ask you about those ballad and blues. Where did you learn to play with such raw emotion? You have a lot of soul, man. Before I listened to the album, I googled you. After reading several articles about you, I had more of an understanding of why you had so much soul.
You grew up in Memphis. You hung around musicians such as pianists Phineas Newborn Jr. trumpeter Booker Little, and saxophonist George Coleman. Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz influenced you. Frank, honestly, I think your style and tone is more akin to alto saxophonist Sonny Criss, another jazz musician from Memphis.

Like Criss your forte’ is playing ballads. Am I the first person to compare you to Criss? Criss made love to the ballads he played on albums such as “Saturday Morning” and “Out of Nowhere”. Frank, you treat ballads with the same tenderness and attention to detail. You and Criss should have made a record together.
I also like your versatility. Your work as a sideman is equally impressive. On drummer Roy Haynes’ album for Prestige Records “Cymbalism” your flute playing was smooth.
You had an endless supply of tricks up your sleeve on Booker Ervin’s album “Exultation”. You kept pace with the tenor saxophonist as he sped through the chord changes on “Mooche Mooche”.

Frank, before you leave will you listen to “Cloudy and Cool,” the first selection on “Cool, Calm, and Collected,” with me? That song gives my heart goose bumps. I love the way you dimmed the light on the tempo and cuddled the melody.

“Cool, Calm, and Collected summarizes perfectly your style.

Frank, you’re probably tired of me gushing about how great your playing is. I invited you to my blog because I wanted to pick you brain, and tell you I think you’re the coolest alto sax player I’ve ever listened to.