Warming Up

Warming Up

Monday, March 7, 2011

Listening Contest Winner

The winner of the eighth installment of the Outside Pants Guess The Trumpet Player contest is……..talented Philly trumpeter Chris Aschman – Chris got this one quickly! And the correct answer is…….Blue Mitchell. Nice work, Chris!  Your prize is your choice of Outside Pants Vol. 1 – Old School Players or Outside Pants Vol. 2 – Ron Miles Mix or Outside Pants Vol. 3 – Brownie Mix.
These recordings of Blue Mitchell’s playing are from saxophonist Lou Donaldson’s 1967 Blue Note release, “Mr. Shing-A-Ling. The first song is called “The Humpback” and the second is called “The Kid.” And in case you were wondering, that’s Lonnie Smith on organ, the crazy funky Idris Muhammed on drums, and Pittsburgh’s own Jimmy Ponder on guitar. I found this CD in a used CD place about 10 or 12 years ago. It’s been a favorite ever since. I have it on vinyl now too. Of all of the Lou Donaldson albums I’ve heard this one is my favorite. At this point in his career Lou has moved on from his bebop days (he could really play like Bird when he was younger) and probably was looking for ways to make more money. And I’m sure that Blue Note was also happy to try to cash in one the growing trend of jazz musicians playing more rock and r&b/soul-influenced music (Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” was such a surprise big hit that many subsequent Blue Note albums included a “boogaloo” tune in the hopes that it would be a big seller). Lou did end up with a (relatively) big hit with Alligator Boogaloo and a later hit with the Isley Brother’s “Who’s Makin’ Love.” Those are great records for sure (and they share similar instrumentation – and a few of the same players), but for me, “Mr. Shing-A-Ling” is just a better record. The tunes are better, the beats are better (90’s era hip hop people loved sampling Lou Donaldson records), and the solos are better. Trumpeter Blue Mitchell is also a big part of what makes this record better.

I once heard someone call Hank Mobley the Middleweight Champion of the Tenor Sax. Coltrane and Sonny Rollins being the Heavyweight Champions. That didn’t seem all that fair to me even it if there was some element of truth there. Mobley wasn’t Trane or Rollins. He was Hank Mobley. And he was an amazing jazz player. Endless ideas (nothing crazy but always super tasteful and melodic), killin’ blues player, awesome sound (especially in his middle years), and he would swing for days. To call him the Middleweight Champion takes something away from what Mobley contributed – he was indeed one of the heavies. I think you could say the same thing about Blue Mitchell. If you ask people who the giant “modern” jazz trumpet players are, you are going to hear names like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard. You might hear people also include Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Booker Little, Donald Byrd, or Art Farmer. And those guys are all certainly giants. But you might not hear people mention Blue Mitchell. And that would be a shame (there’s a reason why the Blue Mitchell-era of the Horace Silver band sounds so darn good – a lot of it has to do with Blue!). Blue never played as high or as loud or as fast as some players (but he did have chops, people, we shouldn’t forget). But he always played with class, amazing phrasing and melodies, and he always played with a warm and gorgeous tone. Oh and yeah, he could play the stuff out of a blues. He always had the blues up in his sound no matter what he played. He was also funky which is something that made him a popular sideman on sessions as the music grew more commercial as the 60’s turned into the 70’s. Need a funky but tasty trumpet solo on your record? Call Blue Mitchell. No nonsense and badass. Blue Mitchell was awesome.

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