Wednesday, January 9, 2013

One Time Only

As I read and explore the world of jazz,  checking out the biographies of the musicians using books and magazines on jazz, summaries in allmusic.com, and blogs I find all sorts of interesting tidbits. One of the most fascinating things is finding those musicians who made only one recording as a leader, and particularly those whose single recording was highly praised, either at the time or now by jazz critics and historians. These are the "Moonlight" Graham's of the jazz world.

The whys and wherefores about these recordings can be a matter of time and place; comfort being a sideman versus a leader; and sadly drugs, sudden illness and death. This post describes the works of eight such musicians, most of whom were active in the 50s and 60s, but sadly includes a recent and painful loss to the New York jazz community in particular.

These are the eight, along with their one release. Note that there are now multiple releases in some case for these players, compilations of their music from other bands, other takes, et al on labels like Fresh Sounds. But below are the eight CDs that are generally recognized as their only recordings as leader, along with some brief words about each.  
  • Product DetailsKenny Kirkland "Kenny Kirkland" (GRP Records 1991) Kirkland was a lauded pianist closely associated with the Marsalis clan who died suddenly at age 43 in 1998. He began his piano studies at age 6, studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and by age 20 was performing with players such as Miroslav Vitous and Elvin Jones. By 1981 he was in Wynton Marsalis' band, with whom he played until he left to back Sting. Later he was in Branford Marsalis' Tonight show band, and in 1991 recorded this sole leader session, which is a creative demonstration of his varied skills with jazz music as he covered songs by Ornette Coleman, a latin bop version of Bud Powell's "Celia", some New Orleans strut, and Monk's "Criss Cross." The power and creativity of  Kirkland is unmistakable and why he never lead another session in his remaining seven years is a mystery.  Great music.  
  • Product DetailsWilbur Ware "The Chicago Sound" (Riverside 1957) Bassist Wilbur Ware's sole recording as leader features an all-star cast of Chicago musicians -- John Jenkins on alto, Johnny Griffin on tenor, Junior Mance on piano, and Wilbur Campbell or Frank Dunlop on drums. How can it be anything but great with those musicians, and in fact it is a terrific hard bop session with some originals by Ware and Jenkins and some standards like "Body and Soul" and "The Man I Love." At the time Ware was just 34 and coming into his own, and while he went on to record as a sideman to the greats, and can be heard on many five-star recordings, he never lead a session again. He passed away in 1979. Recommended listen.
  • Product DetailsDick Twardzik "Trio" (Pacific Records 1955) Richard Twardzik was a creative be-bop pianist from Boston, born in 1931, who made his professional debut in 1945 at age 14. His piano teacher Margaret Chaloff was well-known in Boston and provided him a broad training in classical music as well as jazz. She was baritone sax Serge Chaloff's mother and Twardzik worked in Chaloff's band as well as one led by Charlie Mariano. Unfortunately Twardzik became addicted to heroin as a teenager, and died of an overdose while in Europe with Chet Baker's band in 1931. His is one of the cautionary tales of the jazz world,  a classically trained child prodigy dead at 24 who never saw his one release as leader and never fufilled the promise that everyone in the jazz world saw coming for him. Because Pacific Records only had 22 minutes of his music his leadership date is packaged with trio songs by pianist Russ Freeman to fill up the LP. Here are some of the quotes about Twardzik:
      • "There was this white cat," Cecil Taylor later recalled, "Dick Twardzik . . . He had destroyed some Kenton people by playing like Bud Powell first and getting them all excited and then going into his, at that time, Schoenbergian bag."
      • Steve Kuhn, another student of Madame Chaloff's and a keyboard prodigy, commented: "I admired Twardzik very much, particularly harmonically. He listened to all the modern European composers and was quite advanced."
      • From Ira Gitler: "Twardzik at this stage was not only absorbing the vocabulary of modern jazz, but also soaking up the sounds of contemporary classical music. Just as Brubeck, around this same time, had found a way of marrying his jazz inclinations with the sound universe he learned through his studies with Darius Milhaud, Twardzik was finding a similar source of inspiration in the music of Stravinsky, Hindemith, Bartók and other leaders of the new thing in classical music. As Twardzik brought these elements into his combo work, he created a provocative hybrid, much more than mere imitation, but rather a fresh trail blazed in the annals of American music." 

  • Product DetailsShimrit Shoshan "Keep It Movin'" (Self-Released, CD Baby 2010) I never met Shimrit Shoshan, who died suddenly and tragically this past August from cardiac arrest, at the age of 29. I did know some of the people in New York who knew her and her music well, and the shock in the community was incredibly deep and heart-wrenching; and the expressions of love for her in blog posts, at her memorial at Smalls, and in the newspapers were extremely moving. I also knew her music well, having seen her once in performance and having had her CD since it was released in 2010. "Keep It Movin’" featured a first rate group including Eric McPherson, Abraham Burton, John Hébert and Luques Curtis playing 8 compositions written by Shoshan herself, and those in the community who knew her said it was the first step in what was going to be a fabulous career. I love the CD.  
  • Product DetailsLes Spann "Gemini"(Jazzland 1961) This one comes courtesy of Marc Myers' Jazz Wax blog. Spann made 78 appearances on recordings from 1957 -67 but only one time recorded as a leader. Spann actually played two instruments, guitar and flute, and is pictured on his album with both. Joining Spann on two Gemini sessions were Julius Watkins (French horn), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Albert "Tootie" Heath and Louis Hayes (drums). According to the post, and to Orrin Keepnews, Spann' personality was such that he was more comfortable as a session player or member of a band, and didn't push himself for a leadership role, and made a good living as such. Spann played in Quincy Jones' big band, on Red Garland's Solar, and appeared in Charles Mingus' Town Hall concert orchestra in 1962. His record dates included sessions with Duke Pearson in 1965, and Sonny Stitt and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis in 1966, and his last known recording with Johnny Hodges in 1967. This is one CD I don't have -- I am not a big jazz guitar person.
  • Product DetailsCurtis Amy and Dupree Bolton "Katanga!" (Pacific Jazz 1962) This is about Dupree Bolton, the incredibly talent, troubled, and elusive trumpeter of the early 1960s. In 2009 Ted Gioia published the very interesting and sad story of the mysterious and elusive Dupree Bolton on the website jazz.com, a fascinating tale of a talented but troubled trumpet player, and a much fuller and richer account than I have here. The posts are still on line although the blog is not, and a google search of Bolton's  name will bring you a really fascinating tale. Dupree Bolton was born in 1925 in Oklahoma and about the only thing people know is that he ran away from home at age 14. In 1944, he was in New York playing trumpet in Buddy Johnson’s band, and later with the Benny Carter big band. In 1946 he disappeared, either through illness or imprisonment due to his drug addiction. Then in 1959 he reappeared and played an inventive and explosive trumpet on Harold Land’s "The Fox".  Drugs caught up with him again and it was not until 1962 thaat he co-led this session with Curtis Amy, again showing off his individualistic and inventive soloing. His play captured the imagination of the jazz world, but once again he disappeared into the prison system, this time only reappearing once for a session with Bobby Hutcherson in 1967. After that his path was unknown, excepting a stetch in  the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he played in a prison band. Released in 1982, he worked fleetingly with Dexter Gordon in Oklahoma City but thereafter Bolton drifted from sight. Gioia picks up the story in his post, finding him on the streets  in Oakland CA in 1989. He died in 1993 of cardiac arrest. There have been some releases of his music since, and there is also a recording of his prison band available, but "The Fox" and "Katanga" are his real legacy. An amazing story, and some fine trumpet play from a lost and troubled soul.
  • Product DetailsDon Sleet "All Members"(Jazzland 1961)  Don Sleet was a very talented hard bop trumpeter with a beautifully smooth and mellow tone, whose main influences were Kenny Dorham and the early Miles Davis.  Sleet was born in Fort Wayne, IN in 1938 but grew up in San Diego, where he studied both jazz and classical music as a teenager. He played for three years with San Diego Symphony although jazz was his first love. In L.A. he studied with trumpeter Shorty Rogers and by 1960 was with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. His sole recording as a leader was made at age 22 and was produced by Orrin Keepnews. His supporting cast of all-stars included Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Ron Carter on upright bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Its a great date but for whatever reason never caught on despite the cast. He never recorded a second album, and in 1986 he died of cancer at age 47. Another great CD to listen to if you like the music of the period.
  • Product DetailsJohn Dennis "New Piano Expressions" (Debut 1955) Dennis was an adventurous stylist from Philadelphia in the mid-'50s who recorded just once, for the Mingus/Roach label Debut Records when he was 25 year of age. The album title, the label's producers Mingus and Roach, and the supporting cast of Mingus and Roach clearly state the obvious: Dennis had loads of talent, an adventerous and creative mind, and a magician's touch.  In a 1990 article by Gene Santoro, Jimmy Heath recalled that pianist John Dennis was nicknamed “Fat Genius” by Philadelphia musicians and Muhal Richard Abrams praised Dennis’s “full pianistic approach,” which "blended a cocktail style with jazz and classical strains".  His only other major release was as a sideman on "The Fabulous Thad Jones". "New Expressions" four solo tracks show off Dennis' effortess, balanced two-handed approach, along with his wonderfully lyrical and creative play. There is an oral interview with Walt Dickerson about Dennis, in which he says the following: "There was a pianist, a genius whose name was John Dennis, who had photographic memory, we were like inseparable brothers, we always shared notes... Everyone that came through Philly, they were fearful of him, he was just that awesome... he wasn’t thrilled with the scene at all, because he knew artistically he was far in advance of that which was going on...His record was on the Debut label that Max and Mingus ran. When they heard John, they had to record with him... [His parents were fundementalists who put a lot of pressure on him not to play the devil's music]...it has a physical effect when an artist cannot continue to search and develop his artistry, something happens to that person both physically and mentally...I learned that many people die from a broken heart, nothing wrong with them physically, they're broken-hearted and just give up...and that's what happened to John..." Dennis died in 1963 at age 33.


  • Some mystery, some tragedy, and some really beautiful music.
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