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Oscar Pettiford – Nonet/Big Band/Sextet – 1955-1958 – New York City – Uptown Records

Oscar Pettiford – Nonet/Big Band/Sextet – 1955-1958 – New York City – Uptown Records UPCD27 86/27.87 – 2CD  78:40/79:32 – ***1/2

Of historical significance – Oscar Pettiford – 1955-1958 Live Broadcasts in NYC …

(Oscar Pettiford – bass, cello; Donald Byrd, Johnny Coles, Ray Copeland, Art Farmer, Joe Wilder – trumpets; Eddie Bert, Jimmy Cleveland – trombones; David Amram, Jim Buffington, Ed London – french horns; Gigi Gryce, Gene Quill – alto sax; J.R. Monterose – tenor sax; Jerome Richardson – tenor sax, flute; Danny Bank, David Kurtzer – baritone sax; Sahib Shihab – alto sax, baritone sax, flute; Hank Jones, Dick Katz, Hod O’Brien – piano; Betty Glamann – harp; Carl Pruitt – bass; Osie Johnson, Earl “Buster” Smith, Shadow Wilson – drums. Arrangements by Benny Golson, Gigi Gryce, Oscar Pettiford, Lucky Thompson, Ernie Wilkins)

Through their Flashback Series, Uptown Records is providing a tuition free education chronicling the history of jazz. Many of the releases from this series use radio broadcasts from the East Coast. The sound quality of these broadcasts has not matched the European radio archives that have seen the light in the last ten years highlighting American jazz artists on tours of the continent. That is certainly not the fault of Uptown, nor any other label releasing radio recordings from the 1940s through the 60s. These were of entertainment quality, and the miking and care given to more contemporary European national broadcasts has been understandably of a higher quality.

The radio broadcasts, largely from small clubs like Birdland in New York City have a fascination that the European issues can not match. That is due to the A+ quality of artists living in New York and the East Coast. Simply check out the personnel listed above that were available to Oscar Pettiford to form both a smaller size octet all the way up to his (local) big band. Most everyone here is a star capable of headlining or recording as a leader on their own. They are more than first call sidemen, but on these club dates they are available to fill out dream bands of the day for Pettiford. They did not have to travel, and could play arrangements provided by Benny Golson, Gigi Gryce, Lucky Thompson, and Ernie Wilkins. (What we would do today to hear music of this caliber played by our musical heroes…)

The sound mix is merely adequate, as it would be doubtful that the clubs did much work on sound checks nor miking. Uptown Records has done a remarkable job providing documentation on solos. There is a high degree of repeat songs (“The Gentle Art of Love” is presented five times), as there were many dates from 1957 and 1958 with similar set lists used for this compilation. Most all were from the legendary Birdland club, but ten of the forty eight tracks are from the OP’s Black Pearl, a club co-owned by (OP), Oscar Pettiford. There were club announcers, but Pettiford himself introduces many numbers.

Pettiford liked the idea of having a harp in his larger groupings. He felt it brought a sophistication to the orchestration. He used Betty Glamann during this period. To me, she concentrated too often on harp glissando (strumming of the entire harp), and it took away from the jazz feel, and simply does not swing. I found the use of french horns much more compelling and effective. With a brass front line like Pettiford’s paired with reeds from Gryce, Quill, Monterose, Richardson, and Shihab; Pettiford must have been on cloud nine. Arrangements were first class as well. Donald Byrd and Art Farmer stand out on trumpet, as does Sahib Shihab on a number of instruments.

Club announcers cut off some tracks mid tune for comments that are distracting, but done for radio entertainment purposes, ignoring the embarrassment of riches onstage. It was just a regular night out then, but a lifetime event for today’s educated jazz fanatics!

Stand out tracks include “Smoke Signal,” “Laura,” “Nica’s Tempo,” and “Willow Weep for Me.” Bebop was still in vogue at the time. You will dig the exchanges between Johnny Coles and Sahib Shihab. Donald Byrd shines on “I Remember Clifford.”  There is much to recommend here, and for historical value it’s a smart purchase.

Let’s hope that Uptown gets their hands on more broadcasts from the Big Apple…

Partial Tracklist:
Disc 1:
Bohemia After Dark
Kamman’s A’Comin
You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To
Jack the Bear
The Gentle Art of Love
Nica’s Tempo
Seventh Heaven
Perdido
Two French Fries
He’s My Guy
Smoke Signal
Speculation
The Pendulum at Falcon’s Lair
Aw C’Mon
Harp Capers

Disc 2:
I Remember Clifford
Not So Sleepy
Laura
Sunrise-Sunset
45 Degree Angle
Willow Weep for Me
Now See How You Are
Battle Ax
Stablemates

-Jeff Krow

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