Recording Date: Nov 11, 1960
This 2004 remastered Rudy Van Gelder edition of Donald Byrd's At the Half Note Cafe (the original double-disc version was only issued for the first time in 2000) appears to add one extra track — "Theme (Pure D. Funk)," which clocks in at 1:51 and is also on the second volume in its full form, and a slightly shorter version of "Cecille." Here it clocks it at 12:52; on the 2000 issue it was 14:46. The sequence has also been altered slightly. The real deal is that, while this is the live date showcasing the Byrd quintet with Pepper Adams (and with Duke Pearson, Lex Humphries, and Laymon Jackson in the rhythm section), there is little here to make this worth purchasing yet again if you have the previous set. The sound is only marginally better — and is likely only to be noticed by audiophiles. However, if you don't have the originals, this is one of the most essential hard bop purchases in the canon. The performances of Pearson — of his own four tunes, five by Byrd, and the standards — showcase his improvisational acumen at its height. His soloing on studio records pales in comparison. This was a hot quintet, one that not only swung hard, but possessed a deep lyricism and an astonishing sense of timing, and one need only this set by them to feel the full measure of their worth. Forget the Riverside date that caught them live early on; this is the one.
========= from the cover ==========
The recordings made by Donald Byrd's group at the Half Note represent a significant new step on two different levels. They are not only the most personal and persuasive offerings to date by the trumpet player in the capacity of leader, but are also the latest in a consistently rewarding series of the on-the-spot sessions introduced on Blue Note.
In the past few years Rudy Van Gelder has taken his recording equipment to a variety of leading jazz spots, from Birdland on Broadway to Smalls' in Harlem and as far afield as the Club Baby Grand in Wilmington, Del. The results have been some of the most intimate and informally cooking dates in Blue Note's history. Of all these field trips none has been more productive than the union of Byrd, Blue Note and the Half Note.
Before discussing the club itself a word about Donald's personal progress is mandatory. An aural glance back over his career brings into focus the remarkable headway he has made in a comparatively short lapse of time. Appropriately it was in the Village, not too far from the location of the present recordings, that Donald was introduced to New York audiences as a member of the George Wallington combo at the Cafe Bohemia. That was in the fall of 1955; Donald was 22, eager for knowledge and tuition, clearly a musician of promise that was soon to be fulfilled.
The desire for learning has never abated. Studying at the Manhattan School of Music, Don obtained his M.A. in music education and recently, while continuing to lead his quintet, has been working on his Ph.D. His degree of knowledge of the instrument, and his ability to communicate it to the inquiring student, were graphically demonstrated in a remarkable article under his by-line in Down Beat for Jan. 19, 1961, entitled "Donald Byrd Talks to Young Trumpeters." All who are interested in Byrd and the horn are advised to dig up the back number, but there is room here to call attention to an important point he made, since they have a bearing on the quality of his current performances.
"The complete mastering of the muscular aspects of brass playing produces ease of playing. The brass player who lacks this kind of mastery usually has a tense, nervous quality in his playing that is conveyed to the audience. And, speaking specifically of jazz playing, tension makes it impossible for a player to swing."
Listen to the control on "A Portrait of Jennie," the superb, technical mastery on "Kimyas," the blues-inflected beat on "Pure D. Funk," and you will hear how relevant the above remarks are in Donald's case, as they are in the case of every trumpet player eager to convey his message with authority as well as passion.
A fitting summation of Donald's evolution was expressed by Jack Batten recently in the Canadian jazz magazine Coda: "Byrd's progress can easily be traced on records and this kind of test shows, I think, a steady development in his playing. His work has matured to an amazing and encouraging degree. He now demonstrates a greater consistency in his solos and a more developed technique; he executes his solos with a firmer strength and a more graceful facility. This kind of improvement was to be expected...but more than that, he now reveals a fine sense of construction and an increasingly interesting melodic conception."
It was to be expected that all these qualities would be thrown into sharp relief in the friendly, jazz-conducive atmosphere of the Half Note. The club at 291 Hudson Street, in the southwestern extremity of Greenwich Village, only a horn's blow from the Hudson, has been run since September 26, 1957 as a jazz spot and is perhaps the most remarkable one-family operation in the annals of jazz, with the Canterino parents and children all working together to make it one of the friendliest places in town. Originally it was a bar and restaurant operated by Mom and Pop Canterino in the kitchen with Mike and Sonny Canterino at the bar and sister Rosemarie as cashier. It was then known as Frank & Jeans.
"The most important thing," says Mike, "is not to change your policy. I feel that if you give the people one good group they will be satisfied, instead of offering two groups that may not be so good. And we try to give the people better groups each year." Mike could have added that the slogan on his calling card, "Finest in Modern Jazz and Italian Cuisine," is lived up to in both respects; those hero sandwiches are too much. There are now five Canterinos in charge: Sonny as cashier-bartender, Mike and Rosemarie at the door, Mike's wife Judi in the checkroom and Pop in the kitchen.
And tonight, on the bandstand with Donald we find him teamed, for a robust and hard-kicking front line, with his old Detroit buddy and frequent partner during the past three years, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. In an article titled "Pepper Adams, The Uncrowned King," Fred Norsworthy said: "Many baritone saxists lean toward Mulligan, others are content with Carney. Chaloff, in the late Forties, was the only one with the ability to create and produce. Today Pepper is that man; he has, in fact, incorporated the old school of Carney, the commercialism of Mulligan and the bite of Chaloff... in the past three years his technical ability has improved 100% and his tone is more biting, but solid, and he has soul... The affinity of Byrd and Pepper is remarkable."
Launched by a rhythm section that teams the sturdy bass of Laymon Jackson with two veterans of previous Byrd sessions, pianist Duke Pearson and drummer Lex Humphries (both were heard on Fuego, BLP 4026, and Byrd in Flight 4048, among others), the Byrd quintet takes off on a series of performances that show to full advantage both the cohesion of the group and the fine spirit engendered by conditions at the Half Note.
Ruth Mason, the singer and former Palm Cafe WOV disc jockey, makes the introductory announcement. (If you'd like to dig the lovely face that goes with that voice, see Moods BLP 4044, by the Three Sounds. Ruth was the model for the cover photo.)
"My Girl Shirl," a 32-bar minor-mode original by Duke Pearson, is an ideal opening track, amply displaying the group's individual and ensemble qualities. Note particularly the mastery of time in Donald's solo- in the release of his first ad lib chorus, for example, with its beautifully constructed phrasing that might have made an original tune in itself. Pepper keeps an identical groove going, so sympathetic with Donald's is his concept of phrasing and the beat. Don and Pepper trade eights with the firm and supple Lex Humphries before the closing ensemble.
"Soulful Kiddy" is a slower, moderato Byrd blues, with attractive use of the F Seventh and E Flat Seventh at the ninth and tenth bars. Duke Pearson's contribution is noteworthy for its unpretentious economy of line, and for the funky fills during the closing ensemble.
Donald announces "A Portrait of Jennie" as "a very beautiful ballad" and plays as though he means it. His first chorus, so close to the melody yet so completely personal, reminds me of a theory I advanced in an analysis of improvisation in the New Encyclopedia of Jazz: that it is not just the notes themselves that are important, but how they are placed and how they are played.
"Cecile," though fundamentally a blues, is the most beguiling original in the set. Its main characteristics are the use of B Natural as a focal point in the theme (and again in parts of the solos), and the unexpected modulations to F that give the performer a dual mood, as well as a continuity that ties the long track together. The side closes with a snatch of the group's theme, a slow blues in F known as "Pure D. Funk."
"Jeannine," unrelated to the old pop waltz, is a Duke Pearson up-tempo piece kicked off by piano riffing that continues under the ensemble (which appropriately in view of the club's name, begins with a series of half notes). There is a mildly Oriental flavor to this colorful composition, with a hint of a Miles Davis groove. There's also a simple yet exotic touch to some of the latter part of Donald's excursion here-as usual, he adjusts his overall blowing feeling to the mood set by the theme.
A full-length treatment of "Pure D. Funk" completes the side. A provocative aspect of the rhythm section's work is the use of triplets with a difference-that is to say, a subtle difference that keeps them far from the rock'n'roll groove.
Triplets come prominently into play again on "Kimyas," first in Lex's sticks-on-cymbal introduction, then in the main ensemble, with variety established this time by the omission of the first and last beats in a 12/8 meter.
Pepper and Donald are expansively creative in this track and Duke maintains a fine, pulsating continuity in a three-chorus contribution. As often happens, Donald shows how well he knows the value of understatement for the effect of contrast; he reveals, too, his thorough grounding in jazz, for in addition to the unmistakably modern passages there are phrases here that Roy Eldridge might have used. Lex's Zildjians speak an important piece here and the consistent support of Laymon Jackson is especially noteworthy.
"When Sunny Gets Blue" is a pop song of a few years ago that has earned a measure of acceptance among modern jazzmen. The theme is ingeniously divided into fast waltz and slow 4/4 treatment. Duke is in the spotlight, playing with a keen melodic sense without ever crossing the border into Cocktail Piano Land. Atone point he plays rubato without drums, using the same contrast of meters that was employed in the ensemble.
At the end of this side Donald is heard thanking the Half Note clientele for being "a most receptive audience." It is fortunate for Donald, and for those jazz enthusiasts who are out of reach of the Half Note, that thanks to Blue Note Records the audience has now been multiplied many times in commemoration of a happy, relaxed and musically productive evening.