Jazz for Modernists 10 – Ten Classic Soul-Jazz LPs, 1958-1967
Ok folks, after veering off into free improvisation and progressive rock, it’s time to steer our jazz ship back to the (perhaps) less stormy, but equally exciting, waters of soul. Sometime in the mid-1950s, partly in direct contrast to ‘cool’ or ‘West Coast’ jazz, boppers on the East Coast and in Detroit and Philadelphia began to infuse their modern jazz with healthy new doses of rhythm and blues, swing, Latin and gospel. The subsequent sound, as practised by groups such as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the Horace Silver Quintet and the various combos of Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Rollins, became known as
Before long, much of this music was being described as ‘funky’ and ‘soulful’, terms denoting the down-home earthiness of the blues and the call-and-response spiritual union of black gospel music. As early as 1953, Silver had recorded ‘Opus de Funk’ and Blakey the drum piece ‘Nothing but the Soul’ for the 10” Blue Note LP Horace Silver Trio Vol. 2 and Art Blakey-Sabu (Blue Note 5034). The gospel influence was clearer on Silver’s ‘The Preacher’, originally released in 1955 on the 10” Horace Silver Quintet, Vol. 2 (BLP 5062), a collection also featuring a track entitled ‘Hippy’.
Horace Silver Trio Vol. 2 and Art Blakey-Sabu, 1953 (Blue Note 5034).
Anyway, as the 50s rolled on, ‘soul’ became an increasingly important ingredient in the hard bop vocabulary, often identified in track titles. Examples from 1957 include Cannonball Adderley’s ‘Another kind of Soul’, Milt Jackson’s ‘Plenty Plenty Soul’ and Horace Silver’s ‘Soulville’ (also the title of a track and LP by Ben Webster). Though ‘soul-jazz’ wasn’t really a distinct, recognized genre before 1959, the fusion of r & b and gospel vocal music perfected around this time by Ray Charles (what in future would be called soul) was seeping into the jazz idiom. This was virtually inevitable the great man was an accomplished jazz pianist and arranger (taught by the equally great Quincy Jones back in 1948 in Seattle) and Atlantic, his label, had been recording the Modern Jazz Quartet since early ’56.
What follows is a selection of ten LPs, one each from years 1958-1967, which forms a short introduction to soul-jazz. It’s not a ‘best of’, but something charting the development and variety of the genre during its glory years. Of course soul-jazz continued to evolve after 1967, but that’s another story.
1. Ray Charles & Milt Jackson, Soul Brothers (Atlantic), 1958 (1957)
The first of two 1957-8 collaborations between MJQ vibes man Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson and Ray Charles (the other, Soul Meeting, was held back until 1961), this is an important stage in the evolution of soul-jazz. Though a trained bopper, Jackson was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, at the time synonymous with the rather formal chamber jazz style. That Atlantic should pair him with their gospel-drenched blues genius Ray Charles was recognition that cool jazz could swing and a clear indication that future soul-jazz would benefit from the metronomic structure of cool rhythm sections (MJQ drummer Connie Kay is on both dates). Another important feature is the guitar, played by Skeeter Best on Soul Brothers and Kenny Burrell on Soul Meeting. The title track is by Quincy Jones, life-long friend of Charles and a huge influence on later orchestral settings for soul-jazz. WATCH VIDEO
2. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Moanin’ (Blue Note), 1959 (1958)
An essential album for any serious jazz modernist. Featuring 20-year-old Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Jymie Merritt (bass) and Bobby Timmons (piano), drummer-leader Art Blakey provides the backbone for an excellent and varied session of hard bop. Known today as ‘Moanin’’, after the Timmons-penned opening track, the album was released as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Leonard Feather’s notes describe the opening chorus of ‘Moanin’’ as “the quintessence of funk, based on the classic call-and-response pattern, with Bobby’s simple phrases (focused on the tonic) answered by the horns and rhythm punctuations on straight, churchy pairs of chords (B Flat and F)”. Quite so, and, heard once, it remains lodged in the brain along with images of New York skyscrapers and men in pork-pie hats. Shorter vocal versions were recorded soon after by Bill Henderson and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. WATCH VIDEO
3. The Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Them Dirty Blues (Riverside), 1960
With pianist Bobby Timmons providing the link with Blakey’s Moanin’, this might well be the first bona-fide classic soul-jazz LP (though much hype surrounded the previous Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco). Leader and alto sax player Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley had recently excelled on Miles Davis’s timeless modal classic Kind of Blue, but his forte was definitely funky hard bop and soul-jazz. Them Dirty Blues contains three absolute classics of the soul-jazz genre: Timmons’s ‘Dat Dere’, a version of Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeannine’ and cornet player Nat Adderley’s ‘Work Song’. Mod dancers will be familiar with Oscar Brown Jr’s vocal versions of all three. WATCH VIDEO
4. Jack McDuff, The Honeydripper (Prestige), 1961
Used in American churches since its invention in 1935 and then in pop, swing and rhythm & blues (Ethel Smith, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett), the Hammond organ, most notably the B-3, would soon become a fundamental instrument in soul-jazz. Jimmy Smith started his incredible run of Blue Note LPs in 1956 with A New Sound… A New Star and readers may be surprised not to see Back at the Chicken Shack in the list. Well, though the best of the Blue Notes are great, personally I prefer the big band sound of his Verve debut Bashin’ (see 5) and The Cat (1964). So, 1961’s soul-jazz organ spot goes to Jack McDuff’s The Honeydripper, the Illinois man’s third LP for Prestige. From the opening blast of ‘Whap!’, McDuff’s quartet (with tenor sax legend Jimmy Forrest, drummer Ben Dixon and the great Grant Green on guitar) never falters. WATCH VIDEO
5. Jimmy Smith, Bashin’: The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith (Verve), 1962
Smith’s first date for Verve was with a stellar big band led by Oliver Nelson, whose recording for Impulse, The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961) will be familiar to fans of Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard and Bill Evans. The arrangements of standards ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ (Bernstein & David), ‘Ol’ Man River’ and Ellington’s ‘In a Mellow Tone’ are so tight and clean that, when it arrives, the Hammond screams out at the listener. The title track, an original played just as a trio, is, in contrast, fairly gentle for a bashin’, while Nelson’s ‘Step Right Up’ echoes the jaunty Copeland feel of ‘Hoe-Down’ from the Abstract Truth LP. A fine record. WATCH VIDEO
6. Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder (Blue Note), 1964 (1963)
A comeback date for the young Morgan, The Sidewinder’s title track set the bar high for finger-snapping soul-jazz/funky hard bop in both its musical execution and commercial success (the album and a parts 1&2 single of the title track made the Billboard top 100). An LP format of sorts thus evolved around 1964-8, whereby a swinging blues would be followed by two or three hard bop blowouts, a ballad and maybe something modal (though the greatest Blue Note dates of the period transcended this pattern). Echoing the bodily movements implied by The Sidewinder, examples of the mid-sixties Blue Note house style include Morgan’s The Rumproller (1965), Hank Mobley’s The Turnaround! (1965) and Horace Silver’s wonderful The Jody Grind (1966). Shorter versions of The Sidewinder by Woody Herman (with vocal), Soulful Strings, Quincy Jones and Kai Winding are popular on the dance floor. WATCH VIDEO
7. Horace Silver, Song for My Father (Blue Note), 1965 
As already stated, pianist Silver was at the ground zero of soul-jazz. His Cape Verdean heritage drove him on to exploring folk tunes and Latin, African and other rhythms which he combined expertly in the funky stew. By 1964, his style had absorbed some of the modal touches of players like Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, making his 1960s recordings for Blue Note amongst the most atmospheric and exotic in the hard bop and soul-jazz cannons. Recorded with different line-ups over two dates in ’63 and ’64, Song for My Father is the crown jewel in a golden run of albums Silver recorded for the label. Check out this 1968 live version of the title track here: WATCH VIDEO
8. Jazz Crusaders, Chile con Soul (Pacific Jazz), 1965
The very epitome of Latin-inspired 60s funk, the Jazz Crusaders deserve a place in any top ten of soul-jazz. Throughout the decade, the combination of Joe Sample (piano), Wilton Felder (tenor sax), Hubert Laws (flute), Wayne Henderson (trombone), Stix Hooper (drums), Al McKibbon (bass) and others produced an incredible sequence of smooth and swinging albums for the Pacific Jazz label, including the classic 1965 ‘Chile con soul’. Highlights include opening salvo ‘Aguadulce’, a second version of ‘Tough Talk’, ‘Tacos’ and ‘Dulzura’. Warning – once heard, this music is addictive. WATCH VIDEO
9. The George Benson Quartet, It’s Uptown (Columbia), 1966
A wonderful LP by a master guitarist, sounding as fresh today as it must have done 50 years ago. Taking his inspirations from Gershwin standards, Marvin Gaye, boleros, bossas and more, George Benson produces a record as varied and virtuosic as anything in the soul-jazz guitar canon. Though stylistically different, it shares the adventurous spirit of Davy Graham’s Folk, Blues and Beyond. For sheer excitement, opener ‘Clockwise’ and closing number ‘Mynah Bird Blues’ are hard to beat. The contributions of organist Lonnie Smith are particularly effective throughout. Dancers will want to check out ‘Summertime’, ‘Ain’t that Peculiar’ and ‘Jaguar’ (where Benson gets his guitar to sound like a flute!) WATCH VIDEO
10. The Soulful Strings, Groovin’ With the Soulful Strings (Cadet), 1967
Although Blue Note would divide some of their funkier extended tracks into parts 1&2 singles (if anyone’s got a nice 7” copy of Horace Silver’s ‘The Jody Grind’ please write in), it was not really responsible for the mid-sixties shift towards shorter, bite-sized chunks of soul-jazz aimed either at the dance floor or the singles charts. Arguably that was Chess subsidiary Cadet (earlier Argo), which, from 1965 to the 1970s, released a slew of singles and albums usually comprising shorter tunes, many influenced by, or cover versions of, contemporary pop, bossa nova and r & b songs. Amid some admittedly patchy albums between 1965 and 1967, one that definitely stands out from the pack is Groovin’ with the Soulful Strings. Mixing the cream of the Chess house band (including guitarist Phil Upchurch) with violas, violins and cellos, group leader Richard Evans takes us on a strange, at times psychedelic journey from Bach to the Beatles, via Miles Davis. The single ‘Burning Spear’, an Evans original featuring a kalimba (an African traditional instrument known also as the mbira), is big on numerous dance floors, a flute-driven precursor to Johnny Harris’ ‘Stepping Stones’. WATCH VIDEO
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