Warming Up

Warming Up

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guess The Trumpet Player Winner

Thanks to all who listened to Thursday’s track and to those who ventured a guess. Because of the short solo that isn’t immediately identifiable, I had thought that this would have been a slightly tricky one, but the correct answer came in right away. The winner of the nineteenth edition of the Outside Pants Guess The Trumpet Player contest is…….ultra-busy and talented Philly trumpet player Adam Hershberger. Nice work, Adam!

And the correct answer is….Dizzy Gillespie. The track is called “Evil Gal Blues” by the Don Byas Swing Seven featuring vocalist Albinia Jones. The recording comes from 1944 and it’s part of a really great three disc compilation, Savoy Blues 1944-1994.

I’ve been waiting for a while to feature Gillespie, waiting to find the right tune. I had one picked out (maybe I'll pull it out sometime down the road) and then I remembered about this track and decided to go with this one instead. The reason why I picked “Evil Gal Blues” is because of its uniqueness in Dizzy’s catalogue of recordings: Dizzy is a sideman, it’s a blues, it’s a pivotal point for the evolution of jazz, and because it’s very early in his career and his style is not yet solidified.

After stints with Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine and Earl Hines, Dizzy was ready to go on his own; he was about to start recording with Charlie Parker; he was close to starting and recording with his own big band; the music was changing – mainly under the influence of advanced players and thinkers like Dizzy, and Bird, and Monk, and Bud Powell, and Kenny Clarke. The feel of the beat, the harmonic choices when making a melody were evolving, growing more sophisticated. But “Evil Gal Blues” marks a point right in the middle of this period of change. Diz is still playing a sideman role – this time for Don Byas, a fellow compatriot in the experiments with the new music. And more importantly, Dizzy’s sound and style are not yet all his own. Everyone comes from somewhere. I wrote a couple weeks ago about so many trumpet players developing under the influence of Harry James. Well Dizzy had a daddy too. And it was Roy Eldridge. Recordings from the late 30’s show Dizzy sounding very much like Eldridge. The style of the swing and even the tone is very much rooted in the swing style; the bebop phrasing, language, and even the minimalization of vibrato had yet to develop. But by 1944, when this recording was made, bebop had really started to develop. And you can hear these changes even on a straight up blues record like “Evil Gal Blues.” Sure the feeling is a standard blues feeling. The rhythm is four on the floor. The vocalist is really singing in the tradition of a Bessie Smith. There’s no new ground broken here. That is until Dizzy takes his one chorus solo. Though his sound is not yet what it would evolve into, Dizzy is already playing with a tone that is removed from the swing sound. But it is his choice of notes that really identifies him here. This is what Adam heard when he picked Dizzy as his answer. These notes aren’t notes that a straight blues player would play. They aren’t notes that most players at the time would have played. Some would have said that they were wrong notes. These are bebop notes. They aren’t wrong, but they are new. Something was changing, and Dizzy was one of the galvanizing forces of this change. And it’s happening right here in this track.

I also picked this tune because I really like the way Dizzy plays this blues chorus. As much as I like Dizzy’s playing – and I really do; I have loads of his recordings – I’ve honestly never really loved his playing on a blues. Most of my favorite musicians have a really personal and intimate relationship with the blues – Coltrane, Rollins, Miles, Jimi, Woody Shaw, Louis Armstrong, Bird, Monk, Lester Young – they all have their own personal language and style with the blues. Now it’s going to sound stupid and a bit naïve to say that Dizzy isn’t a great blues player – especially since most of his live sets throughout his career usually featured a blues number – but for my tastes, no, I don’t think he’s a great blues player. Not like those other guys. Maybe that’s why I like this track then: I really enjoy Dizzy’s playing on this. Maybe it’s because of the timing. He’s not yet fully-formed. He’s still got one foot in the past. The style is not quite yet the modern style that he would help to create. This is a transitional moment for Dizzy – and therefore, for all of 20th Century music. And it’s awesome. The shape of things to come.  

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