Recorded July 21, 1957.
Recorded At - Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
Dial "S" for Sonny, Sonny Clark's first session for Blue Note Records and his first session as a leader, is a terrific set of laidback bop, highlighted by Clark's liquid, swinging solos. Clark leads a first-rate group - Art Farmer (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Wilbur Ware (bass), Louis Hayes (drums) - through four originals and two standards, balancing the selections between swinging bop and reflective ballads. There are traces of Bud Powell in Clark's style, but he's beginning to come into his own, developing a style that's alternately edgy and charmingly relaxed. Mobley, Farmer and Fuller have their moments, but Clark steals the show in this set of fine, straight-ahead bop.
All Music Guide
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A New Look At Dial "S" For Sonny
Dial "S" for Sonny, while not the best recording of pianist Sonny Clark's career, was the most fateful. It ensured his position as a major presence at Blue Note Records, where he functioned in a dominant role as both sideman and leader during two brief but intense stretches (1957-58 and 1961-62), and where he created the legacy for which we remember him four decades after his death.
From the perspective of a jazz artist in search of a recording career, Clark's arrival in New York after his California years was particularly well timed. Major labels were actively documenting the music, and independent labels were flourishing, thanks in part to the new 12-inch LP format. Blue Note and such competitors as Prestige, Riverside, and Savoy were signing old and new artists to sustain their expanding rosters, with a premium given to those who possessed star quality and/or the flexibility to work in supporting as well as leading roles. Clark lacked the charisma of such recent Blue Note discoveries as Jimmy Smith and Lee Morgan, but his talent for enlivening a variety of settings was beyond reproach. Among the talented newcomers who made up Blue Note's "Class of '57" (Curtis Fuller, John Gilmore, John Jenkins, Clifford Jordan, and Sabu Martinez were the others), Clark went on to establish the most productive and longstanding relationship with producer Alfred Lion. The pianist had first come to the label's attention on the sextet album with Hank Mobley a month earlier, and became a fixture so quickly that he amassed a dozen additional credits - nine as sideman, three as leader - before the calendar year ended.
Stylistic connections to Bud Powell and Horace Silver, two pianists with strong Blue Note ties, make it easy to understand why Clark fit in so well. His affinity with Silver, then in the process of solidifying recent Jazz Messenger successes with his own band and the hit single "Senor Blues," could not have been emphasized more than they were on the present album, given that Art Farmer, Mobley, and Louis Hayes had all been working together in the Silver quintet. The connection is clear enough, especially in the way Clark's supporting figures develop into sustained ideas of their own and in the honest funk of the composition "Bootin' It." At the same time, there was less brit-tleness and more flow in Clark's solo lines, bringing him closer to the Powell model albeit minus the relentlessness and the astonishing virtuosity. This blend of bebop grounding and hard bop soul goes far to explain why Clark caught on so quickly with so many members of the Blue Note family.
He was clearly at home with the members of the present group, and with the exception of Ware, would work with each again on numerous occasions. The material Clark chose to record was straightforward and well balanced in terms of tempo and moods, and all hands seem to have settled in comfortably. There are two versions of "Bootin' It," although they are not completely different, with the bonus "stereo" take identical to the originally issued mono until the exchanges with drummer Hayes. The editing may have been prompted by Clark's hesitation heading into the fours on the unedited stereo take, or might have its origins in undocumented technical problems that sometimes arose in this early period of stereo recording. Dial "S" for Sonny was among Blue Note's first stereo sessions, and as was the case with a couple of the others, it was originally released in mono only, finally appearing in stereo at the time of its first CD reissue in 1997.
The flow in Clark's improvisations mentioned above is what truly made him a special musician. At his best, ideas poured forth that were linked, one to the next, with delightful shifts in rhythmic emphasis that never dispelled the forward motion or the overall feeling of supreme relaxation. Particularly at medium tempos, his solos convey an effortless, falling-off-a-log quality while still paying careful attention. Here, his feature "Love Walked In" is the best example, although such subsequent performances as "Speak Low" (from Sonny's Crib) and "Tadd's Delight" (Sonny Clark Trio), both from later in 1957, and "Fidel" (on Jackie McLean's Jackie's Bag) from 1959, are even better.
Heroin addiction reduced Clark's visibility shortly after the McLean date, and no doubt explains his absence from Blue Note for more than two-and-a-half years. He returned late in 1961 (on another McLean venture, A Fickle Sonance) with skills intact and a richer harmonic concept. Another intense, rewarding period of studio activity followed before Clark died of drug-related causes in January 1963. It was not until more than a decade later that Clark's performances, on this album and throughout the Blue Note catalogue, began to be acknowledged as some of the finest of the period.
- Bob Blumenthal, 2004