Tag Archives: Vanguard


My title is particularly true when you have Dan Block, Harry Allen, and Scott Robinson as the three reed wizards, floating over and around the playing of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums.  All of this took place in front of “my own two looking eyes” at Jazz at Chautauqua this past September. 

I’ve seen same-instrument extravaganzas slide into machismo, but it didn’t happen with these improvisers, who know how to play softly, with feeling, with intensity.  Dan Block certainly knows how to program a set — some Fifties Basie (composed by Freddie Green, I believe), a less-played Irving Berlin composition from CALL ME MADAM, and a sweet Ellington classic.   

CORNER POCKET (or UNTIL I MET YOU) started things off in a properly rocking groove: Rossano easily gets that Basie glide without copying the most tired trademarks of the Count’s style.  Pete Siers and Jon Burr rock without raising the volume, and even when you don’t quite hear what Gene Bertoncini is doing, the musicians do — he’s in there, as they used to say:

And the sweetly swaying conclusion (I was so delighted by what Gene had played and by the smiles on the musicians’ faces that I missed the start of Rossano’s solo):

THE BEST THING FOR ME (WOULD BE YOU) is often mis-announced as THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, but we know that the first title is sometimes truer than the second.  I first heard the song on a wonderful Vanguard session led by Mel Powell, with Ruby Braff, Skeeter Best, Oscar Pettiford, and Bobby Donaldson, all masters.  Here the first chorus is For Saxes Only, then with the rhythm section joining in, Scott, Harry, Dan, Rossano, and Gene — each one his own brilliant shooting star:

And the best thing for us is more (beginning with an energetic conversation among the horns and ending at such a high level of collective improvisation, those lines weaving and swirling masterfully):

I associate IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD with Vic Dickenson and the sound of the early-Thirties Ellington band (Otto Hardwick singing out the lead): here, the eloquent melody statement and embellishment is handled nobly by Jon Burr, before the horns have a quietly rueful conversation backed by the whispering rhythm section:

More than enough inspiration for anyone!


Does anyone else suffer with this particular moral dilemma?

The major American record companies are massively uninterested in keeping their catalogues of what is, after all, essential music in print.  So that Columbia (now absorbed into the Sony-BMG megalith) let its seminal THE JAZZ ODYSSEY OF JAMES RUSHING, ESQ., vanish.  The sessions John Hammond did for Vanguard in the Fifties with Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Paul Quinichette, Coleman Hawkins, Mel Powell, Sir Charles Thompson, Jo Jones, etc., got sold to a company who issued them piecemeal, picking assorted tracks blindly to create “anthologies” they assumed would sell.  Ellis Larkins playing Victor Young on Decca; Lou McGarity on Argo; Tony Fruscella on Atlantic . . . all disappeared as if the ground opened up.

If readers have the original vinyl issues and a functioning turntable, perhaps haunt used record shops, where the price may be wondrously inflated, all may be well.   But for those of us who like our CDs, a morally slippery solution whispers to us.  Because European and UK copyright laws are less stringent — or, perhaps, because the authorities have other crimes to investigate beyond illicit issues of JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S, inconceivable as that may seem, bootleg issues seem to escape notice.

Thus, mea maxima culpa, I have purchased Lone Hill Jazz issues of Jimmy Rushing’s Jazz Odyssey; Lou McGarity playing music from Some Like It Hot, the Ellis Larkins Deccas, a four-CD Tony Fruscella collection on Jazz Factory, and many others.   I feel guilty.

I don’t know which, if any, of these musicians have living children or other relatives — but the new CD reissues don’t ask players or their estates for permission, nor do they offer payment for the rights to the material.  You could say that all of this is permitted in the name of music, and that the publicity given the dead artist by such reissues offsets the offense.  Perhaps if a bootleg issue had to take on the cost of permissions and royalties, nothing would be issued.

All these things are true.  But my pleasure at hearing Jimmy Rushing swing “Lullaby of Broadway,” a transcendent pleasure, is undermined just a little by the thought that I am cheating his estate by buying this CD or others.

Do any readers have a solution to such dilemmas?