Tag Archives: Houston Person

CD Recommendations: January 2013

Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool (Moochin About)Jazz on Film CD

The second, stylishly presented, volume of five CDs’ worth of jazz movie soundtracks is, arguably, packed with more treasures than the first – it has a glittering cast of the creme de la creme of jazz. The title may not give much away but this set includes the original soundtrack recordings – all digitally remastered, of course – of eight movies from the period 1953-1961. Some are long-established as classic examples of jazz on film (Paris Blues, I Want to Live etc) but others – such as The Wild One – have tended to be overlooked. And most have been unavailable or hard to come by for the longest time.

Rachael MacFarlane: Hayley Sings (Concord Records) 

Rachael MacFarlane CD

Rachael MacFarlane – for those who, like me, had no idea – is the voice of Hayley in American Dad, the animated sitcom created by her brother (and fellow recently recorded singer) Seth. This lovely album comprises songs that she reckons her alter ego would enjoy singing, and is an unusual mix of pop numbers and standards performed with big band, small jazz combo and – in the case of a couple of the stand-outs, just guitar. MacFarlane has a beautiful, clear, pure voice which is best showcased on the slow, gentle and intimate versions of songs by Carole King, Paul Simon and Judy Collins.

Houston Person: Naturally (HighNote Records)Houston Person - Naturally CD

Soulful, majestic and funky are the best adjectives to describe the super-laidback tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who is now, incredibly given how hip he is, approaching his 78th birthday. This latest CD finds him in top form, in the company of one of his old army buddies, the pianist Cedar Walton, plus Ray Drummond (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). The ballads – a characteristically majestic My Foolish Heart and the Johnny Hodges/Duke Ellington rarity It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream especially – are particular standouts.

The Thelonious Monk Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection (Sony Music)

Thelonious Monk CD

Fans of the maverick pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, who died 30 years ago, in 1982, will rejoice in this attractively presented box set of the six quartet albums he recorded for Columbia between 1962 and 1967. Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse is his musical partner in crime on all these albums which include such classics as Monk’s Dream, Criss-Cross and Straight, No Chaser and mark the busiest period in his career which would go into decline in the 1970s.

Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve) Diana Krall CD

The Grammy Award-winning Canadian singer and pianist changes direction dramatically with this new album, her first with the producer T Bone Burnett. Rooted in jazz, but blurring the boundaries between various genres, it comprises mainly forgotten pop songs from the 1920s – but with a sprinkling of later tunes, notably the raunchy rock ‘n’ roll number I’m a Little Mixed Up and the country ballad A Wide River – and showvcases her sensual vocals in an occasionally very intimate setting (the exquisite title number is just Krall and Marc Ribot on guitar). Jazz fans will love the laid-back treatment of many of the numbers in the first half of the CD – but there’s something for everyone.

Scenes in the City: The Man Who Never Sleeps (Woodville Records) The Man Who Never Sleeps CD

A sextet which specialises in the repertoire of the late, great bassist and composer Charles Mingus (rather than a tribute band), Scenes in the City was the brainchild of bass player Arnie Somogyi who assembled a top-notch, all-British line-up for this project, including Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi, who are both heard on alto and baritone saxes, and Mark Edwards on piano. A terrific introduction to the music of Mingus, the album features a lovely, atmospheric take on his Lester Young tribute, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2012: Warren Vache

This feisty solo by Warren Vache woke me and my camera up at the climax of a lunchtime set on day 2 of the Norwich Jazz Party. I think I had sunk into a slump and wasn’t concentrating after pianist Nick Dawson had taken the ill-advised decision to burst into song on the Gershwin ballad Isn’t It a Pity? It was indeed a pity that he started singing, and I have to say I switched off (for self-preservation purposes) – only to be jolted back into alertness by Vache’s magnificent  solo on It Had To Be You – which shook up the musical proceedings and set us back on the road to musical excellence. (And which was one of three versions of this rarely-played number performed over the weekend!) It was like a prize fighter entering the ring and laying out everyone in his wake.

I was disappointed that there was no opportunity this year to hear Vache in my preferred setting for him: the duo. It was particularly disappointing because guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli was there – and one of my favourite memories of the old Nairn Jazz Festival is a duo gig he and Pizzarelli played.

Vache’s most intimate set in Norwich last week was a trio one with guitarist Dave Cliff (plus bass) which swelled to quartet because Vache – understandably – wanted to invite his old pal Alain Bouchet to join him, given that they weren’t scheduled to play together  otherwise.

However, my favourite of the numbers he played which I recorded was this deliciously funky take on Yesterdays which he performed in his first set of the weekend, with Dave Cliff, John Pearce (piano), Giorgos Antoniou (bass) and Steve Brown (drums). 

Vache the balladeer is always a winner – listen no further than this Ghost of a Chance, one of two played at Norwich this year, on which he shares the spotlight with a fellow master musical seducer, Houston Person (tenor sax).

 

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Soho Swings

Backstage at Ronnie Scott's with Houston Person (left) and British jazz star Alan Barnes

A trip to London was the only way to ensure that my new year got off on the right foot. Why? Because two of my favourite US tenor saxophonists were playing there, to full houses – a couple of nights apart.

The majestic Houston Person, whose music I’ve only become acquainted with in the last handful of years, wowed a packed Ronnie Scott’s on Monday with his soulful take on such numbers as Who Can I Turn To, Sweet Sucker and Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

In, er, person the charismatic Houston P is a man of few words – and it’s the same story when he plays: on the gorgeous ballads Maybe You’ll Be There (which I associate with one of my – and, I suspect, his – favourite singers, Lee Wiley), Too Late Now and Why Did I Choose You? (something of a signature tune for this tenor man), his playing was spare yet eloquent, and always with that soulful streak which often manifested itself in a trademark bluesy phrase. He was accompanied by the house trio, led by pianist James Pierce, and they all seemed to be having a ball in each other’s company.

On Saturday, Scott Hamilton – one of my very first musical loves, back when I got hooked on jazz in my teens – had played the final night of his New Year’s residency at the Pizza Express.

Accompanied by his regular, top-drawer, trio of John Pearce (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), Hamilton – whose conversational drawl offstage is now so endearingly drawn-out that you sometimes wonder if he’ll fall asleep before he finishes his sentence – was in especially relaxed mode during the first set which featured the gorgeous ballad Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most and the most laidback uptempo blues imaginable.

Bizarrely, Hamilton seemed to receive and respond to my telepathic request for the lovely Cole Porter number Dream Dancing, one of my favourite tracks on the  first Scott Hamilton album (Plays Ballads, 1989) I ever owned – and one which I had been humming all day…

I decided not to risk a telepathic communications breakdown in the second set and verbally requested another ballad, If I Love Again, which had been a highlight of the penultimate night of Hamilton’s summer residency. It turned out to be every bit as exquisite second time around.

There seemed to have been a gear change for the second set which was downright sensational; another stand-out being the super-funky Mary Lou Williams number Lonesome Moments which, Hamilton explained, they had “tried out” for the first time a couple of nights previously and had been requested to revisit. Turning to his ace drummer, the laconic tenor man said: “Some misterioso drumming, please” and launched into this catchy and atmospheric new addition to his repertoire.

The icing on an already delightful cake was the reinstatement to the Hamilton programme of another ballad with which he used to end sets: the Duke Ellington tune Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face. He wasn’t the only one…

HOUSTON PERSON, with James Pierce (piano), Sam Burgess (bass) & Shanee Forbes (drums); Ronnie Scott’s, Monday January 9, 2012

I.

Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me

Maybe You’ll Be There

Juicy Lucy

Too Late Now

Only Trust Your Heart

Lester Leaps In

Since I Fell For You

II.

Sweet Sucker

Who Can I Turn To?

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

Why Did I Choose You?

Sunny

On the Sunny Side of the Street

SCOTT HAMILTON QUARTET, Pizza Express, London, Saturday January 7, 2012

I.

I Just Found Out About Love

Dream Dancing

blues

Jitterbug Waltz

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Sweet Georgia Brown

II.

?

Lonesome Moments

If I Love Again – The Man I Love

Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face

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CD Recommendations: November 2011

Houston Person: Moment to Moment (HighNote) 

As anyone who’s heard the seventysomething American saxophonist Houston Person perform knows, he plays with an authority, a bluesiness and a robustness which mark him out as belonging to the Gene Ammons/Illinois Jacquet school of tenor sax. Those qualities, plus his lyricism and graceful handling of ballads, shine through on this CD which teams him with boppish trumpeter Terell Stafford plus quartet. Highlights include Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, Johnny Green’s I Cover the Waterfront, plus the bossa E Nada Mais.

Coleman Hawkins: Today and Now/Desafinado (Impulse)

To mark the 50th anniversary of Impulse! Records, a new series of two-album CDs is being launched. This double bill of 1963 LPs by the saxophone giant Coleman Hawkins is superb. Playing as beautifully as ever in the last decade of his life (and accompanied on both albums by a rhythm section led by pianist Tommy Flanagan), the Hawk is in raunchy form on the uptempo numbers on the first album, notably the sensational opener Go L’il Liza, and manages to make the bossa nova his own on a string of tracks associated with Stan Getz. The absolute stand-out, however, is the sublime Love Song (AKA My Love and I) from the movie Apache.

Warren Vache: Ballads and Other Cautionary Tales (Arbors Records) Few artists are brave enough to make an album entirely composed of ballads, but with American cornettist Warren Vache – one of the greats at wearing his heart on his musical sleeve – it’s a long overdue and natural decision. The 12 tracks featured here show that ballads come in many forms – sexy, bluesy and playful among them. Vache is at the top of his game these days, and is surrounded here by the best, including pianists Tardo Hammer and Richard Wyands, and special guests John Allred (trombone) and Houston Person (tenor sax).

Johnny Hodges: Second Set – Three Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) Attention Johnny “Rabbit” Hodges fans! Devotees of the slinkiest, sexiest alto saxophonist of them all should note that this double CD includes a Rabbit rarity: his 1958 strings album, Johnny Hodges Plays the Prettiest Gershwin, hitherto very difficult to come by. You may already have the other three albums (from the early 1950s) but the strings is a must; Hodges’s exquisite, swoonsome sax beautifully complemented by the Stuttgart Light Orchestra playing Russ Garcia’s elegant arrangements.

Scott Hamilton Scandinavian Five: Live at Nefertiti (Stunt Records)

Tenor sax king Scott Hamilton shows that he reigns supreme on this Swedish-made album (and DVD), recorded in a Gothenburg jazz club with a band comprising members from Sweden and Denmark. Devotees of Hamilton’s rich, full-bodied sax sound and swinging style may not find it as essential a buy as his recent duo CD with Rossano Sportiello but it’s a great find all the same, with Hamilton demonstrating how thrilling a live player he is, and that, when it comes to ballads, few can touch him.

Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!! (OJC Remasters) The pioneering alto saxophonist’s first recording session (from 1958) is, perhaps surprisingly for someone whose name connotes far-out, avant-garde jazz, extremely accessible – and very much in the bop idiom. Accompanied by a quartet featuring Don Cherry on trumpet and the hard-swinging Walter Norris on piano, Coleman powers his way through nine of his own compositions, showcasing his squawky yet appealing sound and conversational style in the process. Highlights include the immensely catchy The Blessing, Sphinx and the opening track, Invisible, which launched Coleman on unsuspecting listeners for the first time.

The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me (Arbors Records) 

The wonderful Italian-born, New York-based pianist Rossano Sportiello is the darling of the mainstream jazz scene these days – and this trio album shows why. He has a similar lightness and delicacy of touch as the late John Bunch, as well as a comparable combination of lyricism, swing and whimsical humour. This CD, on which he’s accompanied by Frank Tate (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), is a hugely enjoyable, classy affair.


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Review: Houston Person/Alan Barnes

Houston Person, Alan Barnes and the Paul Harrison Trio, Dryfesdale Hotel, Lockerbie, Sunday October 2nd ****

It’s always a gamble throwing together musicians who don’t really know each other. And, although American tenor man Houston Person and British multi-instrumentalist Alan Barnes had shared front-line duties on Saturday night’s all-star sextet gig at the Lockerbie Jazz Festival, they still seemed a little uncertain of each other at the start of their Sunday afternoon concert.

It only took a few numbers, however, and this pair were cooking. “We’re going to do something we haven’t done this weekend,” announced Person, in his longest song introduction. “Stay sober?” quipped Barnes. “Well, you can … We’re going to go down, so far down,” explained Person, as he led the band into a sensational, funky, downright dirty blues which threatened to blow the roof off the hotel conservatory and inspired brilliant playing from the two saxophonists and, in particular, pianist Paul Harrison whose solo worked the audience into a frenzy of enthusiasm. Later on, they whipped the crowd into a further frenzy with a storming Lester Leaps In and revisited the funky blues territory with a terrific take on Sunny.

Harrison and Barnes are regular collaborators and it was a treat to hear them together on Barnes’s own tune The Hawk – a lovely, uptempo, twist on Out of Nowhere. Person’s balladeering prowess was showcased several times, most successfully on a sumptuous and characteristically majestic Fools Rush In, which also boasted an exquisite baritone solo by Barnes. Unfortunately, Person’s earlier ballad, When I Fall In Love, had been spoiled by drummer Doug Hough’s intrusive cymbals.

(First published in The Scotsman, Monday October 3rd)

Unfortunately, my memory card ran out during the next tune but I figured it was worth sharing anyway…

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Houston Person, Soulful Sentimentalist

It’s the most unexpected shared interests that people tend to bond over – and that was certainly the case when I had my first proper conversation with Houston Person, the saxophonist and record producer who headlines this year’s Lockerbie Jazz Festival.

A big, imposing figure who made his name in the 1960s as a purveyor of hard bop, this 77-year-old African-American has a stately presence on stage and plays tenor in a bluesy, soulful style. He tends to keep himself to himself at jazz jamborees – and when he’s performing he doesn’t waste time with idle chit-chat between numbers. But when I found myself in his company, sharing a lift with him during the Norwich Jazz Party in May, a hunch (based on his choice of the song Why Did I Choose You, from the 1938 movie The Yearling) led me to bring up the subject of old films. Was he a fan? And which films were his favourites?

It turned out he is a serious movie buff whose favourite films are the timeless romance Casablanca and the classic Alan Ladd western, Shane. But what really ignited the conversation was the revelation that Mr Person is a major fan of Doris Day. “I love all her films,” he said, “but NOT Pillow Talk!” Suddenly, his exquisite performance of the ballad Fools Rush In made sense, and the knowledge of his secret love for Doris made his interpretation of Little Girl Blue – the Rodgers and Hart ballad she sang in Jumbo – all the more poignant.

When I called Person last week to chat over his life and career, he sounded tired – he was between gigs – and slightly disinclined to talk. He also didn’t have a clue which journalist he was being interviewed by. Then I mentioned the D word, and the man sprang to life. “That’s my gal,” he said in a voice that was undoubtedly accompanied by a wink and a smile. “How’d you know that?” The conversation in the car was relived. “Oh yeah-yeah-yeah! I remember.” It’s Doris Day’s

One of Houston's favourite Doris Day records - which features Fools Rush In

“sincerity” that Person particularly admires, and he regularly plunders her repertoire – “everybody does!” – for such gems as Sentimental Journey (the title of one of his albums) and I’ll Never Stop Loving You.

Unfortunately, Person never got the chance to work with his dream girl but he does have an impressive track record when it comes to singers, having recorded with the likes of Lena Horne (“Oh, she was very nice,” he says in his sexiest drawl) and Ernestine Anderson (“easy to work with”). His longest working relationship with a singer, however, was with Etta Jones, who made her name in the early 1960s with her hit Don’t Go To Strangers. For 30 years they worked together – until her death, in 2001. Theirs was a rewarding musical friendship which some compared to the legendary relationship betweeen musical soulmates Billie Holiday and Lester Young. Did he see it that way?

“Well, I know everybody else did – but for me, it was just my relationship,” he says, somewhat sheepishly. “I think it worked so well because nobody had an ego. Nobody in the whole band had an ego. Everybody had a job to do, and you just did it. I’d do my stint, she’d do her stint, and the band would do their stint and that was it. Everybody had equal time.

“I’ve worked with a lot of singers, and usually I’m the leader. But when I record with them they’re the leader. And I just try to make it sound good. I’ve always had the attitude that even though I was leader of my group, and Etta was part of that group, when it came her turn to sing, she became the leader and then whoever the piano player was, when his time came, he became the leader. I didn’t feel I had to be in charge of what they do.”

Person was born and brought up in Florence, a small town in South Carolina where his mother worked as a schoolteacher and his father was employed by the agriculture department. He and his brother were exposed to all sorts of music – from the church choirs (“everyone was involved in those”) to the pop tunes his mother would play on the piano. When he was 15 years old, he was given a saxophone for Christmas and within a few years was studying music at South Carolina State College.

Living in South Carolina, he didn’t have the chance to hear his favourite saxophonists – who included Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young. “I was already performing myself by the time I got to hear many musicians. But I did get to see Duke Ellington’s Orchestra when it came to Columbia, South Carolina. Our teacher took us to see them and it was an amazing, thrilling, experience.”

The Ellington band didn’t just make a musical impression on the young saxophonist; it was visual too. Back then, the Duke’s outfit was one of the best-dressed on the scene – and one only needs to look at the famously sharp-suited Person to see that he would have fitted right in. Indeed, these days one of the musicians to whom he’s often compared is the great Ellingtonian tenor man Ben Webster, another master balladeer.

For now, though, the only balladeer up for discussion is Doris…

 * Houston Person plays Ronnie Scott’s, 47 Frith St, London on Monday January 9 and Tuesday 10. His CD Moment to Moment (HighNote Records) is out now.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2011: Monday evening

The last night of the Norwich jazz jamboree started in what has become its traditional style: with Jim Galloway’s Sandy Brown set. One of the joys of this jazz event for me personally – and one which I always remind myself about during the hellish seven-hour train journey from Glasgow – is the chance to hear Galloway and assorted British and American stars execute with panache the very distinctive music written by the late, great Scottish clarinettist.

This was the third Sandy Brown set in as many years and, as usual, the quirky and catchy Brown originals were a delight to hear – Blues-A and Own Up proved to be the ideal tunes for getting the night’s party started. Galloway takes great care to avoid duplication of numbers played in previous years so I finally got to hear the evocative Harlem Fats and, for this outing of the Sandy Brown songbook, he also included some of the arrangements that Brown played from the musical Hair. Personally, I could listen to the Brown repertoire all night – and would have welcomed the chance to hear such previously played numbers as Go Ghana and Africa Blues again.

This year’s Sandy line-up bore a close resemblance to the 2009 version: the wonderful Rossano Sportiello again proving to be the perfect pianist for this witty music, and drummer Chuck Riggs and trombonist Ian Bateman both similarly reprising their parts. Stepping into what have been Bucky Pizzarelli’s shoes in previous years, guitarist Dave Cliff did a terrific job. Each year there has been a different trumpeter – we’ve had Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart and this time Duke Heitger who certainly measured up to the previous incumbents despite being unfamiliar with Brown and his music.

One trumpeter who always makes a point of listening to some of the Sandy Brown set but who hasn’t yet had a chance to get stuck into Jim Galloway’s uplifting arrangements is Warren Vache. He was partnered with tenor saxophonist Houston Person for his final appearance of the Jazz Party, and it was a heavenly match, especially when it came to the set’s two ballads, Once in a While and These Foolish Things, both of which were played as lovely, relaxed duets.

And speaking of ballads, tenor saxophonist  Scott Hamilton – another great master of the genre – produced some magical moments on Monday, most memorably a dreamy take on the rarely played Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.

It was, however, the clarinettists – Alan Barnes, Bob Wilber, Ken Peplowski, Dan Block and Scott Robinson – who dominated the closing set of the 2011 Norwich Jazz Party. And, in a superb set, one number stood out above all others: Pee Wee’s Blues, written by Pee Wee Russell, who was described by Alan Barnes as “possibly the most technically brilliant clarinet player who ever lived”.

Not only did it boast a terrific, Pee Wee-esque solo from the great Bob Wilber but it will also be remembered for Scott Robinson’s masterstroke: by way of homage to the slightly oddball Russell sound, he hummed the first part of his solo into his horn – with wonderfully lyrical results.

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