Continuing the Blue Note theme, I was genuinely surprised when I came to better acquaint myself with the full back catalogue of this most revered of jazz labels. Richard Cook’s ‘biography’ of the label, first published in 2001, provides a full Blue Note discography, of which a basic perusal revealed a significant number of albums on their classic 4000 series (the most prolific, which covered the late 50s and 60s) by artists that I had never heard or heard of. Now this might sound somewhat presumptuous, I am aware - I don’t claim that my knowledge of jazz is either profound or encyclopaedic, but it still provides somewhat of jolt when this lack of depth is demonstrated in such a manner.
Try this list of heroes and zeros and see how many you know:
Dizzy Reece, Sunny Red, Harold Vick, George Braith, Frank Foster, Reuben Wilson, Joe Williams, Richard Groove Holmes, Bobbi Humphrey.
And (taking another breath):
Don Wilkerson, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Roach, Tyrone Washington, Kenny Cox, Jeremy Steig, Candido, Marlene Shaw…
Point taken, I hope. These artists are probably in the Blue Note bargain basket (but are probably nothing like bargains in the collector’s market for rare records), featuring no doubt a collection of rarely heard vocalists, Jimmy Smith wannabes on electric organ, and alto/tenor sax aspirants, but who knows? All these musicians had albums released by arguably the most famous modern jazz label of them all, in it’s most bountiful period of classic recordings, so it is almost certainly not a good idea to dismiss them out of hand. I recently discovered this when I got hold of the sole Pete LaRoca (Sims) record in the catalogue, called Basra, which I do vaguely remember seeing displayed at the old Mole Jazz shop in Kings Cross, but which I never got round to buying. Old Blue Notes were very considered very hip at that particular time, from what I recall
Basra is a pretty obscure release by a pretty obscure drummer (apart from really serious jazz hounds, that is), but it is an absolutely outstanding session, which avoids the ‘blues jams + standards’ aspects of some of the lesser Blue Notes, and is up there with their lesser-known releases like The Real McCoy and Larry Young’s Unity, in providing hard-driving playing and top notch improvisation from all participants. In particular, the under sung Joe Henderson gives one of his best recorded performances, and provides a good reason why he (along with Hank Mobley and George Coleman) should be given a high ranking in the gallery of great tenor players of the era, an era that keeps on giving. Who knows what other unacknowledged treasures await? It certainly makes it difficult at times to focus on contemporary improvisers, and I keep on making mental notes not to get too caught up in what is basically a bottomless well of fascinating material.