Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Babs Gonzalez and George Wallington!

October 27

While rapping is said to have been born in the Bronx, NY, in the late 1970s, singer Babs Gonzalez was using a very similar, rhythmically complex rhyming slang more than three decades earlier. Born Lee Brown in Newark, NJ, he and all his brothers were named “Babs,” a surreal lineage that augured his performance style. (At one point, he wore a turban and called himself “Ram Singh.”) Both with his group, Three Bips and a Bop, and a solo performer, Gonzalez tirelessly proselytized for bebop and recorded with the new music’s crème de la crème: Tadd Dameron, Roy Haynes, James Moody, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Rollins. Here he is, backed by Dameron, vocalizing his most well-known tune—and as unorthodox a lover’s lament as you’ll ever hear— “Weird Lullaby”:

And here is Babs the pedagogue swinging as “Professor Bop”:

Gonzales passed away in Newark in 1980.

George Wallington (Giacinto Figlia) was born in Palermo, Sicily. Although he is often overlooked in jazz histories–partially due to a discography limited by his decision in 1960 to join his family’s air conditioning business–Wallington was one of the first bop pianists. You could make the case that he was first pianist to present bebop to the public, as part of Dizzy Gillespie’s first band, which played the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in 1943. Besides his associations with Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Wallington later led groups featuring then up-and-coming players such as Donald Byrd, Phil Woods and Jackie McLean. Although Wallington returned to music in 1984 and made three subsequent albums, the reissue of Wallington’s trio dates with Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus and Max Roach in the 1990s helped restore his historical importance. Even if he’d never played a note, Wallington would be remembered as the composer of two jazz standards: “Lemon Drop” and “Godchild.” You can hear him play the latter tune from a 1956 trio date here:

And here’s Wallington in a somewhat larger ensemble at the Café Bohemia in 1955 playing the Oscar Pettiford tune, “Bohemia After Dark”:

Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie were eager to sit in with this orchestra. (Roy even joined it for a quick minute.)  Duke Ellington helped bankroll it when times were tough. But Boyd Raeburn struggled to keep his forward-thinking big band afloat, despite the esteem of musicians and the success of Woody Herman’s and Stan Kenton’s equally progressive outfits.  A year before Igor Stravinsky composed his “Ebony Concerto,” for the Herman band, Raeburn’s orchestra recorded “Boyd Meets Stravinsky,” which you can listen to here:

And here is Raeburn’s 1945 version of Gillespie’s classic “A Night in Tunisia,” which at the time was still played under its original name, “Interlude.” Oh, and that trumpet player is the composer himself.

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy records his third album, “The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy,” with drummer Roy Haynes, 1960.

Clarinetist Benny Goodman records “Texas Tea Party,” in 1933; it features trombonist/vocalist Jack Teagarden.