Artist Hank Jones & The Great Jazz Trio
Great Jazz Trio -HANK JONES, GEORGE MRAZ, ROY HAYNES (Great Jazz Trio). Recorded on September 24 & 25, 1991 at Clinton recording Studio A, N.Y.C.
When you name your group the Great Jazz Trio, you generally run the risk of being called arrogant and had better have a lot to back it up. But if your trio consists of pianist Hank Jones, drummer Roy Haynes and bassist George Mraz, that name isn't an example of arrogance or conceit-it's a statement of fact. Forming a very cohesive trio, Jones, Haynes and Mraz pay tribute to Billie Holiday on Flowers for Lady Day. This 1991 session finds the veteran improvisers embracing mostly songs that Holiday recorded, including "Lover Man" and "Don't Explain"-both of which she defined. However, you won't hear "Gloomy Sunday," "My Man," "Good Morning, Heartache," "Strange Fruit" or "God Bless the Child" on this CD-most of the other songs are standards that Holiday recorded but didn't necessarily define. "I'm A Fool to Want You," for example, was defined by Frank Sinatra-and while Lady Day recorded a superb hit version of "Easy Living" in 1937, her version wasn't the only famous one. Nonetheless, the Great Jazz Trio's affection for Holiday's legacy comes through loud and clear. Post-swing pianism doesn't get much more lyrical and melodic than Jones, and his interpretations of melodies that Holiday embraced are every bit as rewarding as one would expect. Flowers for Lady Day is easily recommended to Holiday and Jones fans alike.
- Alex Henderson (All Music Guide)
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GREAT JAZZ TRIO - Flowers For Lady Day
If you could choose only three musicians to interpret songs associated with the great Billie Holiday, you couldn't do much better than pianist Hank Jones, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Roy Haynes.
It's neither exaggeration nor immodesty for these three consummate musicians to be called the Great Jazz Trio. Individually and collectively creative, subtle, sensitive-and above all, original-Jones, Mraz and Haynes are a near-perfect match for the music of Lady Day, whose singing was exemplified by all the aforementioned qualities.
Skilled as they might be, you wouldn't want three callow musicians lacking in worldliness to play songs of such emotional depth as Lover Man, Easy Living, Don't Explain. You'd want people who had been around awhile, who had done a whole lot of living and hopefully some loving and learning and maybe even a little losing.
That certainly describes these guys. At 77, Jones has played with a Who's Who in Jazz in a professional career that began at age 13. And if it's an advantage in playing music connected closely with a singer to have accompanied a singer, Jones qualifies there, too, having worked from about 1948-53 with the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald.
Although he knew her only to say hello, Jones did one recording date with Billie in March, 1959 in a studio on 106th Street in Manhattan and with a large studio band. It was the final recording date for Billie, who died July 17, 1959 at age 44.
The Czechoslovakian-born Mraz, 51, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1968 at the time of the Soviet invasion of his homeland, also has performed and recorded with an impressive array of noted musicians: Oscar Peterson, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Stan Getz, guitarist John Abercrombie. In 1988, he recorded compositions by Thelonious Monk with the late Carmen McRae.
Haynes, 69, might be called the singers' drummer. He spent six years (1953-58) with the late, great Sarah Vaughan, and did a brief stint in '52 with Ella. And he worked with Billie on several occasions-a New York Town Hall concert in 1947 with Lester Young, and a club date just before her death. Coincidentally, Billie died the day Haynes' daughter was born. Besides accompanying vocalists, Haynes, too, has played with a Who's Who of the genre's most outstanding musicians, including Bird and Trane.
So here they are: the Great Jazz Trio, a name that Jones has used (or which has been used by others) to describe trios that he's headed going back to the 1970s. The first included bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams; then Buster Williams replaced Carter, followed by Eddie Gomez on bass and Al Foster on drums, then drummer Jimmy Cobb, and now Mraz and Haynes.
Reached in Japan where he was in the midst of a solo concert tour and doing some lecturing and teaching at the Osaka College of Music (he's a visiting professor), Jones talked about his sidemen, Lady Day, and his approach to the music on Flowers For Lady Day.
"I worked with Roy the first time many years ago, and Roy filled in for a week or so when I was with Ella. He's a great drummer, great soloist, and great personality," says Jones. As for Mraz, "He's everybody's favorite bass player. He's a tremendous soloist, with a fantastic ear for harmony. And he's affable, congenial, adaptable-one of the finest people you'd ever want to meet. When you get these two in your trio you're in good shape."
Two of the qualities about Haynes' and Mraz's playing that stand out as you listen to Flowers For Lady Day are Haynes' exceptional ability with brushes and Mraz' outstanding bowed or "arco" playing. Jones agrees. "Roy is one of the best around or brushes. Some do that well, some never seem to get the knack of it. My brother (Elvin) does it very well." Of Mraz, Jones says, "I think it's true that he is one of the best with the bow. He's tremendously fluent, his intonation is wonderful. He has great jazz feeling, whether playing arco or pizzicato. He's an artist."
Another thing you'll notice is that Mraz and Haynes get plenty of solo space. "Musicians of this caliber who play with such great taste deserve it. You try to let them express themselves," says Jones.
Jones says he tried to think of Billie singing in the background as he played. "She didn't sound like she was singing, but like she was having a conversation. And she seemed to be singing not to a crowd but to you. She phrased so beautifully-like Sinatra, Ella, Sarah. The voice is important, but phrasing is even more important. That to me is the defining thing in whether a singer is great or just another singer."
Obviously, some tough choices had to be made in selecting the songs. Jones and co-producer Todd Barkan picked the following tunes:
Sometimes I'm Happy and Love Me Or Leave Me are the only uptempo numbers. The former features a very brief Jones intro, then off they go, with Haynes swishing up a storm in a brush solo. The latter is the hardest-swinging number here, with Jones maintaining his elegant touch even at a fast tempo. Mraz contributes a subtly strong walking bass, and Haynes' nicely-placed snare and bass-drum accents propel the music.
Delicacy is the watchword on I'll Never Smile Again-each player applying a super-light touch to his instrument. Mraz's marvelous bowed bass intro (so many bassists get an awful creaky kind of sound with the bow!) sets the tone for You Don't Know What Love Is. And we learn here that Mr. Jones does not play sad songs in a maudlin manner. His harmonically rich playing seems to say that life goes on-and there's always hope.
Jones' piano bubbles and Haynes' brushes dance on the snare for the cheerful Baby, Won't You Please Come Home. Lover Man is perhaps Billie Holiday's best-known song, along with Good Morning Heartache. Again, the Great Jazz Trio does not give us a funereal rendition. Though played in an appropriately subdued manner, there still is a subtle sense of swing throughout.
Easy Living says "relaxed." Well, it's really relaxed in these guy's hands. Jones, especially, plays with a wonderful jauntiness. Frank Sinatra's I'm a Fool To Want You is serious stuff, and Jones treats it so. Playing mostly in the lower register, he comes closer than at any other time on the CD to playing "dark." Mraz adds another haunting arco solo.
01' Hank slips in a tune of his own in Time Warp. It's another breezy excursion for the pianist and his mates, with Haynes delivering another terrific brushes solo. Don't Explain is a real downer, but even here, Jones and Co. refuse to wallow in self-pity. After a properly melancholy intro by Jones, the trio plays rubato for awhile, before slipping into a barely perceptible medium-slow tempo.
All the skills possessed by the Great Jazz Trio were necessary to play the music here the way Jones wanted it played. "Softly," he says. "We didn't want to hammer anyone, beat their ears back. Billie wasn't a raucous, Broadway-belting singer. We wanted to do something reminiscent of her singing, of her way of expressing a song, something understated."
You can judge whether they have succeeded.
- Bob Protzman (Bob Protzman is the jazz critic for the St. Paul (Mn.) Pioneer Press and hosts "Monday Evening Jazz" on KBEM-FM)