Recorded September 1, 1957.
Recorded At - Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
Pianist Sonny Clark sounds very much at home on this trio set with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Sticking to bop standards, Clark essentially plays his version of Bud Powell, carving out his own approach to the influential style. The CD reissue adds three alternates to the six selections and includes such gems as "Two Bass Hit," "Be-Bop" and "Tadd's Delight."
All Music Guide
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This is Sonny Clark's first trio session. Introduced to Blue Note aficionados with his first band date on LP 1570, he featured a front line composed of Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller and Hank Mobley. On his impressive follow-up session (1576) the horns consisted of Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller and John Coltrane. Now it is Sonny's turn to become his own front line.
Before we listened together to the rewarding results of this initial trio date, Sonny took a few moments to clarify and amplify his biography.
"Actually, I wasn't born in Pittsburgh," he said. "I was born in a little coal mining town, about 1 6 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, called Herminie, Pa.-population about 800. I was raised there 'til I was 12, then lived in Pittsburgh until I was 1 9, just turning 20; then an older brother, who plays piano, took me out to the coast to visit an aunt.
"Originally I only intended to stay a couple of months. I worked with Wardell Gray and all the fellows around the coast. Then Oscar Pettiford came to town and we got a band and went to San Francisco.
"I worked in San Francisco a couple of months. Buddy DeFranco was in town, with Art Blakey, and Kenny Drew on piano and Gene Wright on bass. Then Blakey and Kenny Drew left him and I joined, along with Wesley Landers, a drummer from Chicago. He only stayed a couple of weeks, then Bobby White came in-this was late in 1 953, and as you know, soon after that, in January and February of '54, we toured Europe in your show, Jazz Club, U.S.A.
"That's where the gaps begin in my notes," I said. "It's been four years since we all came back from Europe and I can't account for everything that happened to you in that time. Perhaps you can fill me in."
"Well," said Sonny, "I stayed with Buddy quite a long while after we went back to the coast. We made another tour, in the Middle West, and we went to Honolulu. Altogether I was with Buddy about two and a half years. Then in January 1956, I joined Howard Rumsey's All-Stars at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California and spent the whole year of 1956 there."
"How did you enjoy that?"
"The climate is crazy. I'm going to be truthful, though: I did have sort of a hard time trying to be comfortable in my playing. The fellows out on the West Coast have a different sort of feeling, a different approach to jazz. They swing in their own way. But Stan Levey, Frank Rosolino and Conte Candoli were a very big help; of course they all worked back in the East for a long time during the early part of their careers, and I think they have more of the feeling of the eastern vein than you usually find in the musicians out West. The eastern musicians play with so much fire and passion.
"We did concerts and a lot of record dates, and I could have stayed as long as I liked, but I wanted to see the East again, and also wanted to see my people who still live in Pittsburgh-a brother and two sisters-and a sister in Dayton. I got to see all of them by joining Dinah Washington in February 1 957 and going along with her as accompanist more or less for the ride.
"Since settling down in New York, I've been doing mostly recording. I played a couple of weeks at Birdland with Stan Getz, and a weekend with Anita O'Day. What I want to do eventually, of course, is have my own trio or quartet and play in the kind of setting I like best-the kind of music you hear in this album."
The kind of music you hear in this album is precisely what you would expect on the basis of Sonny's previous performances and of his predilection for a hard-swinging trio setting. "Be-Bop," the early Dizzy Gillespie composition that kicks off the first side, is a veritable tour de funk. Sonny plays the original Gillespie introduction, delivers the melody with a slightly changed main phrase, starting it with a quarter note instead of the conventional bebop phrasing; then he tears off into a phenomenal marathon of ad lib choruses, ultimately stepping briefly into the background for a bowed chorus by Paul Chambers and a drum solo by Philly Joe Jones. The coda, like the introduction, is a slight variation of the original 1 944 Gillespie treatment.
"I Didn't Know What Time It Was," a 1 939 Rodgers and Hart melody, is taken medium-fast, with Paul Chambers's pizzicato solo in the fourth chorus sharing the solo honors. "This was always a good tune," says Sonny, "and I always wanted to record it."
"Two Bass Hit," like "Be-Bop," recalls the early Gillespie days-not quite so early in this instance, as Dizzy recorded it in 1947 with a big band for which John Lewis (credited as co-composer here) served as pianist and arranger. Despite the title, Sonny used the tune in this instance more as a showcase for Philly Joe than for Paul; the drums and piano fours in the later passages are a striking example of presence of mind, facility of fingers and impact of imagination on the part of Messrs. Clark and Jones.
Side Two opens with still another evocation of the early bop days: "Tadd's Delight" was written and recorded by Tadd Dameron in 1947. The melody is a simple line that pushes gently forward with the frequent use of syncopation. Chambers has a pizzicato solo and Philly Joe trades eights with Sonny on the next-to-last chorus.
"Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" is a melody that has earned increasing acceptance among jazz musicians in recent years: another effective treatment will be found on Sonny Rollins's LP 1581. Sonny Clark here exhibits all his most valuable characteristics, from the funky break with which he steals into the second chorus, all the way through the increasingly down-home atmosphere until on the fifth chorus, for 1 6 measures, Philly Joe's brushes double the tempo ("he just felt it, I guess, from what I was doing," says Sonny). The melody returns on the sixth chorus, while Paul provides a fine counterline.
The session closes with an unaccompanied piano solo on the 1941 standard "I'll Remember April." "Everybody usually plays this tune so fast," Sonny complains, "but it's pretty-it's essentially a ballad." Practicing very convincingly what he has preached, Sonny offers two pensive and restrained ad lib choruses, with none of the trite, traditional jazzing up the melody or doubling the tempo.
If you have heard either of Sonny's previous two Blue Note releases, and were as impressed as I was with the results, you are probably ready and eager to hear him in a setting that affords him even wider opportunities to stretch out. This Sonny Clark trio date should provide the perfect answer to your unspoken but not unheeded request.