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Odd Man Out: Uncovering The Life Of Cal Lampley

By Published: December 31, 2008
A Hammond B3's entrancing mantra spills into the room, calling to arms a horde of skin beaters into a spellbinding, almost shamanic dance. A dark-voiced guitar pairs up to a silvery flute in melody. Earth and Fire unite. Enchanting, the musical whirlwind that unfolds brings to mind the spirit of the late sixties. Haight And Ashbury. Paisley hippies tripping. Beaded tresses and frail bodies swirling as if in trance.

Thus begins not some remastered audiovisual ditty from the Woodstock craze, but the title track from hard bop guitarist Pat Martino's 1967 solo debut El Hombre. It would also become the point of departure of a painstaking mission to uncover the life of its producer, Cal Lampley, who far from having consciously pandered to hippie ideology, nevertheless shared its open-mindedness and belief in music as an enlightening experience.

"It's about time someone write about Cal!" exclaimed friend and fellow composer Vivian Adelberg Rudow on our first interview. "He kind of stayed under the radar so to speak. He was very understated... but not his resume!"

Now, here is a nagging thought: why is it the producer of such landmark recordings as Miles Davis' Porgy And Bess (Columbia, 1958), and Richard "Groove" Holmes' charted hit "Misty"—someone who worked with Leonard Bernstein, Mahalia Jackson and Dave Brubeck receive so little attention from the music press? I set to find out more. And, as pieces of the puzzle slowly fell into place, the story that emerged somehow felt like it needed to be told.

Calvin Douglas Lampley's Harnett County birth certificate states he was born March 4, 1924 in Dunn, North Carolina. The second child of Hettie Marina and William Lorenzo Lampley, he had a brother named William Elwood.

Little is known of Lampley's younger years, save he graduated with a B.S. from North Carolina Agricultural And Technical State University in Greensboro. The earliest mention of musical activity is as organist of Chapel Hill Presbyterian, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's on-campus church. There, Lampley had befriended a group of young musicians that were to make history as the first all-black, 45-piece band in the then white-only Navy: the US Navy B-1 Band.

The brainchild of leading political and educational figures (namely President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, UNC President Frank Porter Graham, NC Governor J. Melville Broughton, amongst others), the B-1 Band enlisted its first recruits in early May 1942. Rigorously selected by a committee that included amongst others Governor Broughton and Navy Chief Bandmaster C.E. Dudrow, recruits had been mostly members trained in the nationally-renowned North Carolina Agricultural & Technical band. Although his involvement with the NC A&T band is unknown, it must be noted that despite not being part of the B-1 band, Lampley was well-known and respected of its constituents. "We all knew about Dr.Graham from Calvin Lampley," says B1 veteran William Gibson, "who was the organist at Dr. Graham's church, and that was pretty rare to have a black in a position like that."

On his part, Lampley enrolled in 1943 as part of the black-only 364th Infantry. Though nothing is known of his time in the Army, nor what prompted his enrolment, an abundant yet polemical literature pertaining to this division offers insight on the tribulations of its men.

(Given the thorny, emotional, and as previously-mentioned, highly controversial aspect of the matter, an impartial summary of the events surrounding the 364th at the time of Pvt Lampley's service is proposed here. In clear, the controversy being already hotly debated by opposing factions (eg: the US Army vs diverse interests groups) only factual elements have been retained for the purpose of this article.)

In mid November 1942, following numerous on-base and off-base skirmishes between local citizens, Policemen, white officers and black GIs (a few of them partisans of the particularly vocal "Double V" movement), at least two black soldiers and a civilian were killed in Papago Park in Phoenix, Arizona. Then, despite the Army's intelligence relating recurrent, racially-based acts of violence previously registered in the region, the turbulent division was "ordered for retraining" to Camp Van Dorn in Centreville, Mississippi on May 26 1943. There, in one of the most racially-tense state ("state of blood" is the expression used by Corporal Anthony J Smirely Jr of the 364th in a missive to the Philadelphia Tribune's editor,) at a time when the Jim Crow laws ruled, that Pvt William Walker was beaten and gunned-down by local authorities on May 30, 1943 in front of the camp's entrance. Their hardships, ill treatment and demands already known by Army and government officials, it appears unequivocal the men of the 364th endured the cruelties of war not in combat, but through their own fellow citizens and hierarchical superiors. For example, not counting the frequent verbal and physical abuse aimed at reminding them of their inferior status, the men of the 364th were not housed in barracks like their white comrades, but in military tents and primitive outdoor stockades. Under these conditions, it comes as no surprise that immediately following the May 30 murder, many 364th servicemen went AWOL to either, avenge their assassinated cohort(s), or seek asylum to other US Army Induction Centers. By December 26, 1943, those remaining from the 3,000 initially enlisted were transferred to Seattle, and eventually shipped out on garrison duty to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Although different lists of personnel exist, data concerning Pvt Lampley has yet to come available, rendering his whereabouts hardly traceable. In light of his resume, we can surmise he not only was stationed in Centreville (maybe also in Phoenix), but in Alaska as well.

GI Bills in hand, he moved to New York City in 1946 to pursue his education at the Juilliard School Of Music. He graduated from the prestigious institution in 1949 with an Artist Diploma in piano after three years under the rigourous tutelage of Irwin Freundlich (piano) and Richard Franko Goldman (composition). The zenith of his rather brief career as a concert pianist was undoubtedly his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1953. Though his 20-year stay in New York latterly proved somewhat disappointing on a performance level, his good fortune was about to strike as he entered the auspices of Columbia's Masterworks as a tape/music editor.



Lampley (far right) with fellow Res Musica America composers.

Supervised by label head Howard Scott (himself a methodical and meticulous producer) as well as by Vin Liebler (one of the engineers involved in the development of the 33-inch Long Playing disc,) he would spend thousands of hours in Masterworks' editing rooms before being recruited into A&R by producer George Avakian as his assistant. Dubbed "Columbia's Teddy Wilson" by Benny Goodman after jazz's own forbearing leader in interracial mixing, he spent the next few years following Avakian to both Warner Brothers Records and RCA-Victor, working with both black and white artists. The year 1957 and much of 1958 saw him work on such seminal sessions as Horace Silver's Silver's Blue (Columbia, 1957), Art Blakey's Drum Suite (Columbia, 1957), Mahalia Jackson's Live In Newport, 1958 (Columbia, 1958), as well as Dave Brubeck's Great Concerts (Columbia, 1958) and Jazz Impressions of Eurasia (Columbia, 1958). Inheriting Avakian's duties following his departure to WB in early 1958, he also produced two of Miles Davis' most critically-acclaimed, top-selling outings for the major: Porgy & Bess (Columbia, 1958) and Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957), the latter as assistant producer. Porgy & Bess would become the pinnacle of his producing career.

Wanting to pursue the same type of sound as "Summertime" on Miles Ahead, Lampley had pitched the idea of doing Gershwin's opera to Davis, who concluded, not without initially rebuffing the proposition, his was a most meritorious endeavour to undertake. With Gil Evans arranging and conducting a stellar studio cast, they would go on and make one of the most important orchestral recording in jazz history. Discussions caught on tape during both the Porgy and Miles Ahead sessions show the temperamental, and at times abrasive, trumpeter getting along admirably well with his newly appointed producer. As a matter of fact, listening to The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings: Alternate And Rehearsal Takes (Disc 6) (Columbia, 1996) reveals the reassuring, deep-voiced Lampley as a rather open-minded, understanding personality and the star trumpeter at his most relaxed.

Considering both albums' success and the vacancy left by Avakian a few months before, his decision to join an ailing competitor instead of harvesting Columbia's jazz and classical pastures raises questions. Especially considering his successor, Irving Townsend, would go on to produce Davis' follow-up Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959). Lampley for his part, seems to have contributed rather meagerly in the course of his three-year stay at Warner Bros.

In a surprising move, he released in May 1959 the pretentiously-titled Last Of The Red Hot Cha Chas, an album featuring lush orchestral arrangements of classic, dance numbers. From this recording—the sole released under his name - his sultry take on "Ol' Man River" found its way onto the soundtrack album of Bachelor In Paradise (MGM, 1961). Though it remains possible he again handled studio chores for Avakian, only three non-WB records evidence some session work: Nina Simone's Forbidden Fruit (Colpix, 1961), Nina At The Village Vanguard (Colpix, 1962) and former Columbia expat, Erroll Garner's Closeup In Swing (Octave, 1961) who credit him as "recording director."

He bivouacked to RCA-Victor in 1962 and composed "The Rabble King," a "new musical for TV," that same year before parting ways with Avakian to join Prestige Records. There, following Prestige's expeditious approach to record-making, he lined up numerous unrehearsed sessions with a slew of organists and electric guitarists, thus realizing founder Bob Weinstock's cost control objectives and foray into more commercial genres while still maintaining an instrumental, improvisation-based product. The resulting soul-jazz sub-genre took form and flourished under the aegis of Weinstock's company. And, thanks to a new generation of artists influenced by the label's recordings of Johnny "Hammond" Smith, Jimmy Smith, "Brother" Jack McDuff and the likes, it lives on in an albeit reincarnated form called Acid Jazz, of which Brand New Heavies, Galliano and the James Taylor Quartet are its most illustrious practitioners.

Inquired on how Lampley ended up at Prestige, fellow producer Bob Porter explains; "He was hired to replace Ozzie Cadena in 1964. Weinstock wanted someone with a greater pop sensibility—Don Schlitten would handle the hardcore jazz. I replaced Cal in 1968. I was hired by Schlitten." Shedding light on the possible cause of his leaving Prestige, Porter continues, "When I joined Prestige, I inherited a backlog of sessions that had not been done because Cal was out much of the year due to illness."

During his four years with Prestige, he recorded alto giant Sonny Stitt, Gary McFarland with guest Tom Jobim, Andy Bey And The Bey Sisters, Bobby Timmons, Frank Foster, Chuck Wayne, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Pucho And The Latin Soul Brothers, Duke Edwards, George Braith, Freddie Roach, Billy Hawks, Willis "Gator" Jackson, Freddie McCoy, Johnny Hammond Smith, and Dan Patterson. Oftentimes acting more as a supervisor than what the contemporary notion of "record producer" implies, he is nevertheless to be commanded for steering the first solo efforts of Pat Martino, Eddie Daniels, Boogaloo Joe Jones, Eric Kloss, and Trudy Pitts. From a technical standpoint, in addition to his razor-sharp work for Masterworks (most notably on Victor Borge's and Leonard Bernstein's musical narrations,) as well as on the heavily-edited Porgy And Bess, his sessions with overlooked vocal act Andy Bey And The Bey Sisters, deserve mention for their compelling, variegated presentation. That said, because of Columbia's policy of not giving credits to its production staff, bringing to light the extent of his work for the company remains a challenge.

Leaving Prestige in late 1968, he then entered into academe. Convinced into moving to Baltimore by his former teacher Richard Franko Goldman to help set up a jazz ensemble at the Peabody Conservatory Of Music—and thus become its first full-time black faculty member—he stayed at the noble institution for three years, teaching band and classical piano, as well as complete a Masters in Composition under Richard Rodney Bennett and Jean Eichelberg Ivey before accepting a better-paying position as professor of piano and composition at Morgan State University in 1971.

According to friend Vivian Adelberg Rudow, his thirteen year stay at MSU, thought slightly tainted by bitterness over what he perceived as the University's disinterest over his music, would nevertheless prove salutary. Providing him a certain material security, he would then be free to cater to his own musical muse, as well as mine newly found opportunities in broadcasting and music criticism.

Thus, the seventies saw him host a weekly, Sunday evening program on WCBM-AM entitled "Peabody Presents" in addition to contribute concert critiques for Maryland Public Television's show "The Critic's Place" for nearly eleven years. Inquired shortly after his former colleague's passing by the Baltimore Sun, the late film critic Don Walls remembered a knowledgeable and popular character who "got a lot of mail...and employed an expressive posture—always a cigarette in the air, very Noel Coward." Considering there have been relatively few African-American classical music critics on television, one surmises gaining acceptance and respect must have required tact and flexibility - those same qualities found in the best record producers. As matter of fact, he not only blazed trails as a black producer working with white artists, but also as one of the few black critics with such long tenure on television.

His later years saw him return to composing. Asked what his music was like stylistically, Adelberg Rudow explains; "Tonal, simplistic, often had a sense of humour, personal. His last piece was "Me, Myself and I," and somehow I think his thoughts about his mother was in music." "He wrote an Organ Sonata for me...," says expert lawyer and former keyboardist of jazz-funk band Both Worlds, E. Scott Johnson. "Cal liked all kinds of music, and would often say there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. He was not judgemental about genres." "(He) produced a recording for me...a "disco" version of "The Word" off the Rubber Soul album (by the Beatles) for me, and I think it could have been a hit, but it was never released."

Key West Symphony Orchestra's Sebrina Alfonso, then conductor for the Goucher Symphony, certainly felt close enough to his music to include one of his pieces in the Symphony's Fall 1994 programme. Other ensembles that have performed his scores include the Baltimore Wind Ensemble, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and, of course, Res Musica America, of which he was once a board member.

Promo Shot taken in 1994 for a Baltimore newspaper. Lampley with friend Vivian Adelberg Rudow (on horse) and two unidentified composers.

"I knew he was dying," reminisces Adelberg Rudow, "Res Musica America honored him at a concert for chamber orchestra music at Goucher College in Towson on May 1, 1994" That day—exactly 27 years to the day he produced Pat Martino's first solo effort—would become a special one. Thanks to a citation from Baltimore's then mayor Kurt L Schmoke, the day was proclaimed Cal Lampley Day. A promo shot was taken a few days before the said event (see photo). Lampley was 70. He would die 12 years later on July 6, 2006 at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Baltimore from complications of Multiple Sclerosis, leaving no survivors.

From Leonard Bernstein's incursions into jazz, by way of Judy Garland and Richard "Groove" Holmes' "Rifftide" (arguably one of the fiercest B3 bonanza in history), Lampley's work ranged far and wide. Strong-willed yet able adapt to any given situation, Calvin Lampley fought dignified battles throughout his life. In many ways, he was indeed the odd man out.

Selected Discography

The Essential Mahalia Jackson - Mahalia Jackson (Columbia, 2004)

The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (6 Discs Box Set) - Miles Davis And Gil Evans (Columbia, 1996)

The Essential Dave Brubeck - Dave Brubeck (Columbia, 2003)

Drum Suite - Art Blakey (Columbia, 1957)

Silver's Blue - Horace Silver (Columbia, 1957)

Miles Ahead - Miles Davis (Columbia, 1957)

Porgy And Bess - Miles Davis And Gil Evans (Columbia, 1958)

What Is Jazz? - Leonard Bernstein And the New York Philharmonic w/Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis etc. (Columbia, 1998)

The Last Of The Red Hot Cha Chas - Cal Lampley Orchestra (Warner Bros., 1959) Soul People - Sonny Stitt (Prestige, 1964)

Andy Bey And The Bey Sisters - Andy Bey And The Bey Sisters (Prestige, 1990)

El Hombre - Pat Martino (Prestige, 1967)

Listen Here! - Freddie McCoy (Prestige, 1968)

On Basie's Bandstand - Richard "Groove" Holmes (Prestige, 2003)

Photo Credit

Vivian Adelberg Rudow



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