Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; May 17, 1960.
Bassist Doug Watkins only led two recording sessions before his death in 1962, and this set (which was cut for New Jazz and reissued on CD in the OJC series) has sometimes appeared under Yusef Lateef's name. Watkins doubles on cello (an instrument he had reportedly only begun playing three days earlier) during the set with Lateef (who triples on tenor, flute, and oboe), pianist Hugh Lawson, bassist Herman Wright, and drummer Lex Humphries. The quintet performs three standards, Watkins' "Andre's Bag," and a couple of Lateef tunes. The use of oboe and cello on some numbers makes the date stand out a bit from the usual hard bop sessions of the period and straight-ahead jazz fans will want to get this CD.
All Music Guide
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Since this marks the recording debut of Doug Wat-kins on cello and Yusef Lateef is heard only on flute and oboe, it might be called a miscellaneous album. There is nothing miscellaneous about the way they play these instruments however. Nor is the music miscellaneous - it's jazz.
Doug Watkins has been a prominent, steadily working bassist since coming to New York in 1954. He had worked with the Barry Harris trio in his native Detroit, gaining valuable experience while backing such greats as Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Coleman Hawkins. In New York, he was a member of the Horace Silver group at Minton's that eventually grew into the Jazz Messengers. Since then he has worked with numerous small groups including Chet Baker's quintet; the trios of Red Garland and Billy Taylor.
It has always been one of Doug's ambitions to play the cello. Three days before the date, a cello player lent him his instrument. What you are hearing here is the first time he actually played it. He explains: "I usually do these tunes on bass but I wanted a different sound. To me, the cello gets a tone between guitar and piano."
Watkins isn't the first bass player to double on cello; Harry Babasin and Oscar Pettiford both preceded him. But I'll bet he's the first to play on a record date three days after obtaining the instrument. Perhaps I am overly impressed. Maybe the transition is not that hard for an accomplished bassist to make. All I know is that I wouldn't have been aware of his short aquaintance with this new axe, if Doug hadn't told me himself.
Anyone who has read my ballot in 1960 Down Beat International Critics Poll knows how I feel about Yusef Lateef. He was my second choice on flute is the "established" division and first pick in the miscellaneous category (new star division) on oboe. Whatever instrument he is playing, and that includes his tenor sax, you can be sure of marvelous execution and sound. As for imagination, Yusef is not a man to be bound by convention as he has proven in his own group by the use of such diverse instruments as the argol, re-bob, earth-board, eac. (Hear Prestige 7122, New Jazz 8218, 8234.)
Hugh Lawson is another Detroiter who played with Lateef from 1956-60. He studied tenor sax as well as piano at Wayne, the University where Yusef studied flute after leaving Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra. Hugh says he likes the playing of Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Erroll Garner. There are some evidence of two other Detroit pianists, Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris, in his work.
Bassist Herman Wright, another Detroit product, has worked with James Moody, Sonny Stitt, Terry Gibbs, and Cab Calloway. He studied music at Cass Tech High and Wayne University. He can also be heard on Prestige and New Jazz with harpist Dorothy Ashby; on New Jazz with Yuseff Lateef. He is an able supporter and solos well when called on.
Lex Humphries is a strong, swinging drummer who has played with Dizzy Gillespie's quintet and the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet. Here he blends well with the ideas Watkins and Lateef are trying to put across in this album by using brushes throughout.
One Guy, a blues by Lateef opens, or rather swings open, the door. Flute and cello, in unison, carry the theme. Doug is the first soloist, displaying his dexterity immediately. Yusef's full-blown flute follows. After Lawson's solo, Wright comes in for a big-toned offering. Then there is some interplay between Doug and Yusef before they combine to take it out.
Watkins carries the melody alone on Confessin'. After Yusef's flute solo, he digs into his improvisation, re-turning after Hugh's solo to re-state the theme.
Another blues by Yusef closes side one. This is Soulnik, which features the cello-oboe unison. Doug has a nice, crisply phrased solo that quotes from Charlie Perker's K. C. Blues along the way. Lateef gets a haunted-country road-at night sound in a solo pregnant with feeling. Lawson is thoughtful with hints of Flanagan while Wright again shows his facility in solo.
Andre's Bag seems to be a gypsy's knapsack. It's a minor-key melody by Watkins that contains his most impressive work in the album. Lateef's purity of tone on flute is marvelous. Lawson catches the mood well and there is a neatly brushed solo by Humphries.
The theme of I Remember You is split between cel-Ic and flute. After each solos, Doug comes back for a half a chorus. Yusef picks it up at the bridge and Doug takes it out. This ballad standard is swung in medium tempo here as it is most of the time that jazzmen play it.
The set ends on a slow tempo. Yusef plays the melody of Imagination as Doug weaves under and alongside of him. At the end of Watkin's solo, Lateef fades in again to close with Doug still plucking and Wright bowing underneath it all.
This is essentially a quiet set but it doesn't neglect communication of emotion. The instrumental texture itself makes for intrigued listening and the oboe-cello combination is certainly an original and unusual sound for jazz.
Now that he has met the cello and found that they like each other, Doug wants to "go into it more deeply." There are some things he will never learn. He already knew them.
- Ira Gitler
Too many fine musicians have been killed in automobile accidents. Clifford Brown, Richie Powell, Stan Haaselgard, Willie Dennis, Eddie Costa are just some. There are many more. Charlie Parker was lucky to escape with his life in a car crash at the age of 16. Doug Watkins, a superb bassist, had no such luck. In the early hours of February 5, 1962, Doug fell asleep at the wheel of his own car near Holbrook, Arizona. The automobile crossed the highway and rammed head on into an oncoming pick-up truck. Trumpeter Bill Hardman and saxophonist Roland Alexander stepped from the wreck unhurt but Doug Watkins was dead. So ended a brief and brilliant career; the jazz world mourned the loss of one of its most promising young men to what has become an occupational hazard.
Watkins was born in Detroit on March 2, 1934. He studied at the famous Cass Tech High School where his schoolmates included Paul Chambers (a cousin by marriage) and Donald Byrd. By the age of 16 Doug was studying hard with Gaston Brohan and already doing gigs with pianist Barry Harris. In the summer of 1953 he got his first out-of-town job with the James Moody Band but never actually recorded with the group. He returned to Detroit later and rejoined Barry Harris' Trio which for the next year backed a whole host of visiting stars including Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Coleman Hawkins.
In August of 1954 Doug was ready to try New York so he packed his bag and split for the Apple. His first gigs there were with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, a great talent spotter, and through Kenny he was introduced to Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Hank Mobley. These five men soon formed a musical alliance which grew into the Jazz Messengers. The group made its debut at the Blue Note, Philadelphia, in February, 1955. The following month the unit, minus Dorham, recorded for Blue Note (they had already done a session in November, 1954, which produced classics like Doodlin' and Creepin' In). Later in the year, the band was frequently to be heard at the Cafe Bohemia where two albums by the Messengers were taped 'live' in November.
The exposure with Blakey, and subsequently in the Horace Silver Quintet, formed in June, 1956, earned Watkins an enviable reputation. He was soon getting his fair share of calls for record dates and all manner of gigs. In the following five years he worked with Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Gene Ammons, Sonny Rollins, Pepper Adams, John Coltrane, Paul Quinichette, Chet Baker and many others. He was often to be found with his old friend Byrd and was a member of the quintet the trumpeter took to Paris in late summer, 1958. This outfit, completed by Bobby Jaspar (tenor & flute), Walter Davis, Jr. (piano) and Art Taylor (drums) made records on the Continent and played several big festivals. The association with Byrd continued on and off until Doug's death but in the last three years of his life he freelanced widely. A particular favorite of McLean, Watkins worked with Jackie many times also and appeared on several of the saxophonist's albums for Prestige and Blue Note. As a bassist Doug had an impeccable beat, a real bass sound that would cut through an ensemble without the aid of microphones. Like the English bassist Peter Ind, he got that tone by holding the note down with the left hand and not wasting energy by plucking too hard. Says Ind, "Most bass players think that if they pull harder with their right hand they're going to get a bigger sound whereas the secret of a sound is in the left hand-that's where you really stop the notes. You can pluck it lightly and it will sing out a mile if you've got the note held down." You rarely, if ever, hear Watkins' strings vibrating or rattling because he was not one of the 'meaty hands' brigade.'
Another gift Watkins had was his ability to play exactly the right note in a chord to complement the soloist; he would never clash with what the man up front was doing. He combined well with many different drummers and when his chance to solo came he really took care of business. Doug was not influenced by the style of playing which Scott La Faro developed in the late 1950s-soloing behind soloists and using extensively the top notes on his strings. When Watkins played it, the bass sounded like a bass. His favorite players were Percy Heath, Ray Brown and Slam Stewart and he came out of that tradition of playing.
On this album, one of the two made under Watkins' leadership, he does not play bass at all, being featured on cello. He never used it again on record which is a pity because he could have developed into a damn good jazz cellist too. It had always been one of Doug's ambitions to play the cello. Three days before this date, a cello player lent him his instrument. And this was actually the first time he had played it. Watkins told Ira Gitler, "I usually do these tunes on bass but I wanted a different sound. To me, the cello gets a tone between guitar and piano." It must be admitted that Watkins on cello was not really comparable, at this stage, with Watkins the bassist. But there is no doubt that Doug took to the instrument right away, just as Oscar Pettiford before him had done. While with Woody Herman, Pettiford fooled around with a cello one day in a music store and that night used it on stage when his moment came to solo! Herman, who knew nothing about this in advance, was flabbergasted. The fingering is not the same on the two instruments, and the positions are smaller. To musicians of the stature of Watkins and Pettiford the technicalities were unimportant; they were just natural players.
For this date Watkins used several friends from his Detroit days. Pianist Hugh Lawson and bassit Herman Wright are two more products of Cass Tech and both men went to Wayne University, of which multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef is another alumnus.
Lateef plays all his chosen instruments fluently. He did not take his tenor sax to this particular session but alternated with flute and oboe. His flute playing ranks with James Moody's as the most consistent and enjoyable in jazz. He also wails on oboe with power and distinction.