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Artist Profiles

Odd Man Out: Uncovering The Life Of Cal Lampley

By Published: December 31, 2008
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.

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