Jazz for Modernists 13 – Kenny Dorham: 6 of the Best

Jazz for Modernists 13 – Kenny Dorham: 6 of the Best

Jazz for Modernists 13 – Kenny Dorham: 6 of the Best

Texas-born trumpeter, composer and singer McKinley ‘Kenny’ Dorham (1924-1972) played an important role in the development of modern jazz trumpet. Recording as early as 1945 with Mercer Ellington and Frank Humphries, he appeared on some early bebop big-band sessions led by Dizzy Gillespie and sustained a career as leader and side player throughout the 1953-1965 period of hard bop. After work with Fats Navarro, Lionel Hampton, James Moody, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk, his first full date as the leader came in October 1953 and was released for Debut as The Kenny Dorham Quintet (vols. 1 & 2). The following year he was a founding member of (at the time) Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, a combo soon to be led by fellow co-founder and drummer Art Blakey. Dorham’s own Jazz Prophets followed in 1956, a line-up of which featuring pianist Bobby Timmons recorded his second album for Blue Note, ’Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia (1957).

Dorham has constantly been regarded as a ‘players’ player’ or ‘underrated’, perhaps due to his never being consistently associated with one major label for any great length of time. Although commercial success eluded him, the pantheon of great names of distinct styles that either played for him or invited him to key sessions is a testament to his qualities of consistency and adaptability. Returning to Blue Note in 1961, he struck up something of a partnership with tenor great Joe Henderson, appearing on three of his Blue Note LPs: Page One (1963), Our Thing (1963) and In ‘N Out (1964). Henderson appeared in turn on Dorham’s Blue Note dates Una Mas (1963) and Trompeta Toccata (1964), while both horn men featured brilliantly on Chicago pianist Andrew Hill’s masterpiece Point of Departure (1964).

From 1965 until his premature death in 1972, Dorham recorded only sporadically, though he did still feature on some excellent LPs including the 1967 debut by pianist and fellow Texan Cedar Walton. Overall, his legacy is a very positive one, often hailed for the quality of original compositions such as ‘Blue Bossa’ (recorded by Joe Henderson), the modal ‘Sunset’ from Whistle Stop (1961) and the twice-recorded ‘Una Mas’. In terms of style, Dorham has been praised in The Penguin Guide to Jazz for his ‘elusive brilliance’ and described as ‘fluid, punchy and lyrical’. Of his Blue Note sides, only ‘Mamacita’ (see no. 5) was issued as a 45 single, though a few EPS on other labels were distributed globally. DJs looking for tracks for the dancefloor or the ‘lounge’ party soundtrack might need to rely on albums. In truth, Dorham was never really an out and out soul-jazz player, though the list below does it’s best to appeal to mods who like to ‘step out’ as well as sit back with a cool beer and watch the network DVD box set of Public Eye.

1. ‘Afrodisia’ (1955) – From Afro-Cuban 10″ Vinyl, Blue Note BLP 5065 & LP, BLP 1535 (1957)

Dorham’s first two lead sessions for Blue Note in January and March 1955 were with expanded versions of the first Messengers line-up featuring Horace Silver on piano, Art Blakey on drums and Hank Mobley on tenor sax. From the second session came ‘Afrodisia’, an infectious piece of Latin hard bop with Carlos ‘Patato’ Valdes on congas and Cecil Payne on baritone sax.


2. ‘Lotus Blossom’ (1959) – From Quiet Kenny LP New Jazz NJLP 8225

What Billboard (Feb 22, 1960) called ‘the relaxed, warm sounds’ of Dorham’s late ’59 Quiet Kenny LP for Prestige’s New Jazz offshoot owed more than a little to the modal sounds of Miles Davis’ recently released Kind of Blue and the directions in which John Coltrane was taking the hard bop template. Bassist Paul Chambers had appeared on Davis’ seminal album, while pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Arnette Cobb in the same year played on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, the first clear exemplum of the iconic saxophonist’s ‘sheets of sound’ experiments. Dorham’s quartet for this date was thus the cutting edge of post-bop improvisation. The modal feel is evident on the exotically-titled ‘Lotus Blossom’, which leads off an outstanding set of laid-back modern jazz.


3. ‘Buffalo’ (1961) – From Whistle Stop LP Blue Note BST 84063

Whistle Stop, the third of Dorham’s five dates as leader for Blue Note, is required listening for connoisseurs of the particular period of hard bop (c.1959-1963) that followed Miles’ and Coltrane’s modal experiments and preceded the r & b-driven, finger-snapping funk of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder. Perhaps the most interesting track from a historical point of view is the bluesy and Indian-inspired ‘Buffalo’, a swinging example of what Ira Gitler’s original sleeve notes describe as ‘southwestern funk as opposed to the usual southern funk we hear’. Mistakenly attributed to Horace Silver, a short version of this tune cropped up on the debut release in early 1963 of visionary acoustic guitarist Davy Graham (The Guitar Player). Taken up by John Renbourn, the tune for guitar was an early blueprint for the fusions of jazz and folk that would lead to the formation of Pentangle in 1967.


4. ‘Sao Paulo’ (1964 – recorded 1963) – From Una Mas Blue Note BLP 4127

Enter Joe Henderson (and Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Butch Warren). Recorded in April 1963, Una Mas (Spanish for ‘One more (time)’) is a record inspired by the Brazilian bossa nova sounds so popular in the United States in 1962. The title track, here extended to over 15 minutes, had appeared a year earlier as ‘US’ on the live Inta Somethin LP for Pacific Jazz. Infectious though this is, it’s the shorter ‘Sau Paulo’, described by Dorham in the sleeve notes as ‘half bossa feeling and the other half is something else’, which best epitomises the ‘light and shade’ feel of Blue Note’s 1960s Latin-tinged modal blues.


5. ‘Mamacita’ (1965 – recorded 1964) 45 (parts 1 & 2): – Blue Note 1922; 33 – From Trompeta Toccata Blue Note LP BST 84181

This catchy Joe Henderson tune kicks off side two of Dorham’s last date as leader (Henderson would record a slightly faster version on his 1967 set The Kicker). The last of the five Henderson-Dorham Blue Notes to be recorded (in September 1964), Trompeta Toccata reunites Dorham with Tommy Flanagan and also features legendary drummer Albert Heath and the great Richard Davis on bass. Mid-sixties jazz modernists are urged to acquire this album also for its urgent Afro-Latin title track (with outstanding Henderson solo) and the nocturnal swing of the excellent ‘Night Watch’.


6. ‘Turquoise Twice’ (1967) – From Cedar Walton: Cedar! LP (Prestige PR7519)

Dallas-born pianist and composer Cedar Walton had made his recording debut in 1958 on Dorham’s Riverside LP This is the Moment! After a stint with Art Farmer and Benny Golson’s Jazztet, he was part of Art Blakey’s most interesting Messenger’s line-up from 1961 to 1964, playing alongside Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard and contributing bona fide classics such as ‘Ugetsu’ and ‘Mosaic’ to the repertoire. By the mid-sixties Dalton was appearing on numerous Prestige sessions; his first for the label as the leader featured Kenny Dorham, who, though fading from the scene, delivered a searing solo on the majestically lyrical modal blues ‘Turquoise Twice’. Dorham continued to record sporadically (dates with Barry, Harris, Clifford Jordan, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Cecil Payne) until his premature death from kidney disease in 1972. His legacy is a fine one.



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James Thomas

James Thomas was born in Bristol just the wrong side of 1970 (1971). His first encounters with the 1960s were his two-year-old elder brother’s reminiscences of the Moon Landing (since deleted by the BBC) and an afternoon in 1975 listening to the Beatles with his parents. He remembers 2-Tone and the ’79 revival, but was the one in his primary school still wearing flares until he persuaded his mum to buy him a black Harrington jacket (a stylish-enough copy by Burtons) and asked a hair stylist to make him ‘look like Suggs’. In the 1980s he became obsessed with almost every aspect of the 1960s, whether it were Star Trek, the length of George Harrison’s hair in March 1965 or the first colour TV broadcast of a cricket match (he thinks it was 1968). After being side-tracked by progressive rock (an ongoing guilty pleasure), James came to his senses in 1986 on seeing footage of Booker T and the MGs and Otis Redding on a programme celebrating the 60th anniversary of television. A flirtation with ‘indie pop’ (in the bowl-cut and anorak days) led to too much introspection, but also a new interest in the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s that seemed to go hand in glove with a liking for The Pastels and The Razorcuts. A summery afternoon in the jazz tent at Bristol’s annual (and long gone) Ashton Court Festival in 1989 opened his mind to the sounds of Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Art Blakey and most forms of modern jazz. In 1990, James attended his first proper 60s club night, the revered Kaleidoscope Pop! in Leeds. On his return from the North in 1992, he developed a new commitment to Mod culture. He recalls early Untouchables Brighton New Year rallies and in 1994 moved to London. A real education for him (in so many ways...) was a period in Barcelona (1997-2002) where he helped out with the Magic in the Air club for a year or two and where his IQ was permanently reduced by a record dealer who made him clean vinyl for four weeks in a windowless room. After a decade or so in the West Country, he is now living again in London, where he plans to write about jazz, meet like-minded people and study the history of the cravat.

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September 7, 2017 By : Category : Articles,Bands,Front Page,ModJazz,Music,Picks,Reviews Tags:, , , ,
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