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Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Soul And The Abstract Proof: Searching For Soul And Its Meaning In Jazz

By Published: November 29, 2010
Borrowed

The legendary James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
was often called "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," but one of his many other nicknames was "Soul Brother #1." Different people fondly recall Brown's career for different reasons. Some remember his reputation as a strict band leader and others respect his abilities as an unparalleled entertainer. Drummers will forever appreciate how his music fused soul and funk—with Clyde Stubblefield and/or John "Jabo" Starks laying down the grooves—while saxophonists will always think of Brown's hellacious hornmen like Maceo Parker
Maceo Parker
Maceo Parker
b.1943
saxophone
and Pee Wee Ellis
Pee Wee Ellis
Pee Wee Ellis
b.1941
saxophone
. The mention of Ellis and Parker, of course, hints at a jazz connection within Brown's work, but the most overt overlap between the world of Brown's soul and straight up jazz came with a one-off collaboration between Brown, drummer Louie Bellson
Louie Bellson
Louie Bellson
1924 - 2009
drums
and arranger Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
, called Soul On Top (Verve, 1969).

Brown and Bellson originally met at one of Pearl Bailey
Pearl Bailey
Pearl Bailey
1918 - 1990
vocalist
's shows at the Apollo Theatre, but the idea of a collaboration didn't come up until Brown mentioned it at a later encounter in 1968. Less than a year later, they crossed paths again and the initial idea began to take shape. Despite the fact that Bellson was no slouch with a pen, Oliver Nelson ended up being drafted to write the arrangements. Nelson—best known to jazz fans for his classic, Blues And The Abstract Truth (Verve, 1961)—gets to the heart of soul and the abstract proof of its connection to jazz on this album.

The big band on the record features some top drawer jazz talent like saxophonist Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts
b.1945
reeds
, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland
Jimmy Cleveland
Jimmy Cleveland
1926 - 2008
trombone
, bassist Ray Brown
Ray Brown
Ray Brown
1926 - 2002
bass, acoustic
and Bellson on drums. Brown's main man on saxophone—Maceo Parker—was part of the date as well, and the repertoire was as eclectic as could be. The program consisted of Brown hits like "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," standards ("It's Magic"), re-worked country fare ("Your Cheatin' Heart"), blues ("Every Day I Have The Blues"), a Bellson original ("I Need Your Key (To Turn Me On)") and some other interesting choices, but these three different artists met on common ground to bring a unified sound to the music. While one or two tracks—like the over-funked up take on "September Song"—might come off as contrived to some listeners, the majority of the music finds hits the right tone. This under-appreciated classic was reissued in 2004 and Brown's quote on the back of the CD really strikes a chord about the connections between soul and jazz in his music:

"When people talk about soul music, they only talk about gospel and r&b coming together. That's accurate about a lot of soul, but if you are going to talk about mine, you have to remember the jazz in it. That's what made my music so different and allowed it to grow."


One only needs to listen to the version of "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" on this album—which begins with a riff that bears some resemblance to the "Better Git It In Your Soul" lick—to observe how soul and jazz became one.

Blue

While 1959 is forever remembered as a pivotal year in the history of jazz because of ground-breaking albums like Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959), Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
's Time Out (Columbia, 1959) and the previously discussed Mingus Ah Um (Columbia, 1959), plenty of other impressive artistic statements were coming out of the studios at this time. In September of that year, Orrin Keepnews convened a session for a new album from trumpeter Blue Mitchell
Blue Mitchell
Blue Mitchell
b.1930
trumpet
that—in Keepnews' own words—helped the trumpeter step "over the invisible line" from a "promising artist" to a musical force that made good on that promise and had "arrived." The album—Blue Soul (Riverside, 1959)—featured a sextet on some of the tracks and pared things down to a quartet on some others, and the album as a whole struck a good balance between individualistic instrumental endeavors and tightly woven arrangements. Benny Golson
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
arranged and/or wrote a good deal of the material on the album, while Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
—who also held the tenor saxophone chair on the recording— arranged two of his own pieces for the affair.

Golson's "Park Avenue Petite" gave Mitchell a chance to show off his sound on a classy ballad with noir-ish sensibilities and "The Head" is a good example of a tune that let Mitchell cut loose and cook over a hard swinging rhythm section, but the title track is, appropriately enough, the best example of soul-meets-jazz. The sextet became a quartet—with Heath and trombonist Curtis Fuller
Curtis Fuller
Curtis Fuller
b.1934
trombone
sitting out—and Mitchell used the opportunity to gel with his blues-capable rhythm section. Understated soul, as filtered through the 12-bar blues, is at the core of this performance and pianist Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
1931 - 1971
piano
is a key ingredient in the mix. Whether simply comping with some soulful tremolo licks or soloing with his inimitable blues inflections, Kelly makes this one cook despite a tempo that is merely moderate. Bassist Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Sam Jones
1924 - 1981
bass, acoustic
contributes some enjoyable solo work on this one and Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
1923 - 1985
drums
locks in well with his fellow rhythm section mates. The James Brown album might have had soul on top, but "Blue Soul" has it underneath the surface, hiding deep within Mitchell's trumpet work, Kelly's piano and the Jones-men's rhythm work.

Stay tuned for more Old, New Borrowed and Blue.


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