Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday George Shearing!

August 13

Trumpeter Benny Bailey is born in Cleveland, OH, in 1925. Not many jazz musicians have a song named for them–especially one written by a master such as Quincy Jones. But Jones was so impressed with Bailey’s technique and versatility that enabled him to “evoke Armstrong, Eldridge and Gillespie within sixteen bars in one number,” according to Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler in their Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Bailey spent most of his professional life in Europe, which is why he is relatively unacknowledged in the annals of jazz, with one ironic exception: He played at the 1969 Montreux, Switzerland Jazz Festival with a funk-jazz band led by saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist Les McCann, which resulted in the live album Swiss Movement and the crossover hit, “Compared to What.” Bailey cashed some royalty checks, but he disfavored the music.

As a young man, Bailey studied at the Cleveland Conservatory and with a young composer named George Russell, who had yet to formulate the modal formula that would have a profound impact on the jazz of the 1960s forward. Like so many musicians of his generation, Bailey’s apprenticeship was with rhythm and blues performers such as Bull Moose Jackson and the comedian Scatman Crothers (who would go on to become an actor whose most famous role was in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining); Bailey was only 16. Right after WWII, he played with saxophonist Teddy Edwards and pianist Jay McShann before touring Europe with the Dizzy Gillespie bebop big band in 1947 and 1948. Bailey then played for five years (1948-1953) with the legendary Lionel Hampton Orchestra that included trumpeters Jones and Clifford Brown, saxophonist Gigi Gryce and arranger Tadd Dameron. The Hampton entourage toured Europe often, and Bailey liked the continent enough to make it his more or less permanent home. He spent two years in Sweden (1957-1959). According to James Nadal writing in Allaboutjazz.com, “After a short stateside sojourn in 1960 during which he recorded an album for Candid, Big Brass, the Quincy Jones band brought him back to Europe where he stayed more or less permanently — working as a soloist with different orchestras or leading his own groups in various countries.” During these years, Bailey played with drummer Kenny Clarke and saxophonists Stan Getz and Eric Dolphy; he also played on pianist Freddie Redd’s album Redd’s Blues (1961) and Dexter Gordon’s 1977 album Sophisticated Giant. In 1980 he again returned to the U.S., helped found the Upper Manhattan Jazz Society with saxophonist Charlie Rouse, and worked with pianist Mal Waldron’s quintet. In 1983 he returned to Europe, residing in Amsterdam. He toured with the Paris Reunion Band, and he was a frequent guest with Europe’s leading salsa orchestra, the Conexion Latina. He lived in Amsterdam starting in 1991. In 1995, he returned to the U.S., making a triumphant appearance at the hallowed Village Vanguard club. Bailey died in Amsterdam in 2005, and musicians mourned and missed the extroverted, highly expressive trumpeter. Listen to a few examples of Bailey’s playing. First, the tune “Hard Sock Dance” from Big Brass, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGPMP2mzYJE. Bailey is joined by alto saxophonist Phil Woods (doubling on bass clarinet),  French horn player Julius Watkins, flutist/guitarist Les Spann, pianist Tommy Flanagan bassist Buddy Catlett and drummer Art Taylor. And here’s the original recording of Jones’s tune, “Meet Benny Bailey,” by Jones and Bailey with Harry Arnold’s Swedish Radio Studio Orchestra in 1958:

Pianist George Shearing is born in London, England, in 1919. Shearing is the sole British musician to exert a great influence on jazz. He did so with his unique–and much imitated– 1950s quintet sound of pianist (Shearing), vibraphone (Marjorie Hyams), guitar (Chuck Wayne), drums (Denzil Best) and bass (John Levy). Shearing dusted off a piano style that he called “locked hands” made popular by Milt Buckner’s work with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra of the early 1940s. “Locked hands” was just a reworking of Buckner’s use of block chords (two-handed chords usually played in the middle range of the piano with the left hand duplicating or complementing the right-hand notes, and in unison with the song’s rhythm, as well as the guitar and vibes. Shearing’s sound was wildly popular and his records sold astoundingly well. Shearing also was a prolific songwriter, and his tune, “Lullabye of Birdland” has long been a jazz standard. As a young musician, he played in an all-blind orchestra (Shearing was congenitally blind) and in pubs for change until critic Leonard Feather discovered him and brought him to the U.S. in 1947. Shearing spent the next two years establishing his presence on the jazz scene and assembling his quintet, which culminated in his booking at Birdland, the most celebrated club in New York City and making a recording of a pop tune titled “September in the Rain,” which became an unexpectedly big seller. For the next half-century, Shearing was one of the most popular of jazz musicians. He won two Grammy Awards for his records with singer Mel Torme, and nearly every other award in existence. He played for presidents and British royalty, and was even knighted! Shearing died in 2011. For those of you who have yet to hear the Shearing sound, listen to his 1954 rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” here: