Throughout most of his career, tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson has worked in the R&B and rock & roll field, adding his virile tenor to many sessions and uplifting the music without receiving that much credit. However, in 1975-76, the busy studio musician was recorded on two occasions as a leader in jazz settings by Concord, and the results show that he is also a superior jazz player. Johnson, teamed up with keyboardist Mike Melvoin, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Jake Hanna and Bobbye Hall on congas for this date, puts plenty of soul and swinging ideas into such songs as "George On My Mind," "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and "Parking Lot Blues." The music is accessible, fairly basic and fun.
All Music Guide
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"Studio musicians" occupy an often uneasy position in the world of jazz artistry.
These performers whose working schedule is comparatively regular, who spend considerable time reading scores and perhaps playing types of music which is singularly uninspiring: these hornmen who have some kind of security in their lives and who play for film soundtracks, TV shows, Muzak tapes, commercial cartoons and the like seem to be too professional and too competent to be part of the rough-and-tumble that "jazz music" represents to many people.
Eddie Condon, guitarist of the old Chicago jazz school, noted that "You can't play jazz and eat." Condon's own success in subsequent years contradicted the comment-and there are hundreds of other even better examples from the late 1920s (when radio "house bands" began) to the present of great, creative jazz musicians playing regularly in the security of the studios and still blowing in the best jazz spirit.
Saxophonist Plas Johnson is an outstanding representative of the Los Angeles "studio scene!' We have all heard him, unidentified, on recordings, seen him on TV (Merv Griffin show, etc.) and appreciated his talent. On this recording, his fourth as a leader over a 20 year period, Plas Johnson emerges as a distinctive and powerful tenor and alto saxophone voice who will never again be shrouded in the anonymity implied by the term "studio musician!'
Johnson blows all kinds of styles, naturally. He is as convincing on the ballads (Georgia on My Mind, Don't You Know Little Girl) as on the boppish and funky Bucket 0' Blues or Parking Lot Blues.
His alto sax tribute to Johnny Hodges, Once More for Johnny is as sensual and touching as is his treatment of the magnificent soul-gospel classic, Please Send Me Someone To Love.
He can drive down hard, suggest some Coltrane changes along the way, yet play as light as a tropic breeze on the delicate Our Day Will Come.
Johnson grew up in the New Orleans area, singing and playing music within his family. His first horn was a soprano sax, acquired in the late 1940s: his brother, Ray, with whom Plas played for many years, was developing as a pianist during the same period.
He went on the road with singer Charles Brown, the dynamite rhythm-and-blues star, in 1951 then spent a couple of years in the army (Korean war era) and by the mid 1950s had worked his way from Watsonville's Corral Club (near Monterey, Calif.) to L.A. and into a sideman role with the Johnny Otis Rhythm-and-Blues show.
Encouraged by George Jenkins, Plas continued to take any and all available jobs and by 1960 was part of what might be called the "Henry Mancini organization" of studio musicians. Plas played the tenor sax solo on the "Pink Panther Theme"-he also was the featured sax on Sheb Wooley's hit, "The Purple People Eater" in 1958.
Harold Battiste, who arranged all this disc's numbers except Ray Brown's Parking Lot Blues, also grew up in the New Orleans area (where he played with Plas and Ray Johnson) then went to college at Dillard, came to L.A. and worked with Ornette Coleman, returned home to New Orleans to run his own record company and by the late 1960s was back in Hollywood, arranging and scoring for network TV-the Sonny and Cher show was' one of his assignments.
Conga player Bobbye Hall, best known for her work with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, has been a Motown Records mainstay for ten of her 26 years.
Johnson's saxophone versatility is matched by all his hand-picked colleagues on this date. Mike Melvoin's remarkable shifting from electric to acoustic piano keyboards, using each in its best musical atmosphere, is beautifully captured on Bucket (electric) and Once More... (acoustic).
Time After Time is a swinger, with no piano, virtually led by the incomparable Ray Brown on bass. Plas and Ray begin and end Time as a duet.
Don't Vbu Know... is Plas the master balladeer in the mood of his "Old Folks" recorded with the Hanna-Fontana Band on Concord Jazz (CCD-6011).
Guitarist Herb Ellis, always tasty and professionally unobtrusive, solos brilliantly on Parking Lot Blues, Someone to Love and the fascinating little gem, Time After Time.
Just as Once More for Johnny pays tribute to the great Hodges by Plas' alto impressions, the fine tenor sounds on Georgia on My Mind reflect, ever so sparingly, the way Coleman Hawkins used to handle the tune-which was one* of his favorites, and it is one of Herb Ellis', too. You can tell by the way he plays the guitar introduction.
The boppish Bucket 0' Blues is one of those spin-off charts that revolves around the riff theme but allows for brief solos and exchanges. Drummer Jake Hanna has his few solo bits here, matching wits with Plas; Jake's work on this session, as has been the case on his many Concord Jazz label appearances, is the epitome of good taste.
A drummer should be felt as much as heard, and should play to the mood of the selection just as much as any other instrumentalist. Hanna is a musician, not a vaudvillian (although he can be funny as hell on the drums when that's called for) and he uses his head as much as his hands, and feet, when he gets into a recording studio.
And as for Ray Brown-well, we just take his genius for granted. His youthful demeanor and enthusiasm belie the fact that it was 30 years ago that he joined Dizzy Gillespie and began one of the longest and most impressive bass playing careers in jazz history.
Brown's work alt through this recording, beautifully captured by engineer Phil Edwards, is typically magnificent... and so is his concluding bass statement about 40 seconds before Once More for Johnny ends. His descending, fleet-fingered, run is incomparable-no one else could do it.
The quality of the musicians and the musicianship on this recording is quite a tribute to Plas Johnson. Mutual respect is the firmest foundation upon which to build a fine jazz performance.
- Philip Elwood (San Francisco Examiner)