Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Pete Brown, Jesse Davis, Count Basie’s “How Long Blues,” and Oscar Peterson’s “If You Could See Me Know”

November 9

Pete Brown is, like too many musicians from the heyday of jazz, almost totally forgotten. The alto saxophonist was born in Baltimore in 1906. A child of musical parents, Brown also played trumpet, piano and violin, which he played as a youngster accompanying silent films in theaters. Brown was eclipsed by Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter and Willie Smith during the Swing Era and through the historically opaque, transitional “swing to bop” years of the early 1940s. Yet Brown was an extremely busy musician and seemed to work both sides of 52nd Street during its heyday from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. He was part of John Kirby’s first group and appeared with swing-sters trumpeter Frankie Newton’s Uptown Serenaders,  Buster Bailey’s Rhythm Busters, pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith & His Cubs, clarinetist Jimmie Noone and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, but in 1942 he formed a group with Dizzy Gillespie. After WWII, he changed both his musical approach and his tone to move in the direction of the nascent rhythm and blues genre. (He may have been ahead of the R&B curve, having referred to a 1939 combo of his as a “jump band,” which R&B groups were often dubbed a decade later.) Brown was generous with whatever time he had left from his almost incessant blowing, and he gave lessons to aspiring saxophonists such as Flip Phillips and Cecil Payne. Brown, who suffered from diabetes,had to curtail his club-hopping in the 1950s and 60s, and he died in 1963. Listen here to a quintessential Brown record, “Just Plain Shuffle,” recorded for the Savoy label in 1945:

Another alto sax player was born on this date: Jesse Davis, in 1965 in New Orleans. Davis has recorded eight albums under his own name, as well as LPs with Illinois Jacquet and Jack McDuff. Listen here to Davis kicking off the Charlie Parker Legacy Band (with trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Jimmy Cobb) in a live version of “Cherokee”:

1938: Count Basie records “How Long Blues” with his “All-American Rhythm Section” of Jo Jones on drums, Freddie Greene on guitar and Walter Page on bass. Listen here:

Pianist Oscar Peterson records “If You Could See Me Now” with guitarist Joe Pass on this date in 1983.