Billy Bean/Walter Norris/Hal Gaylor: The Trio Rediscovered
Though born and raised in Philadelphia, home of many jazz greats, Billy Bean moved to New York in 1958 where he worked with Bud Shank, Red Callender and Charlie Ventura. Despite his talent, he made relatively few recordings. There are no listings for Bean in Tom Lord's Jazz Discography. His recorded output has been as a sideman, albeit a prominent one, on sessions lead by others. He made his first recordings with Red Callender around the mid-fifties and then two albums with Charlie Ventura around 1957. It was around that same time that he teamed up with another "newcomer" to jazz guitar, Johnny Pisano, to make two of the incredible guitar recordings to come out of that period, Take Your Pick and Makin' It. After making these albums and still in his prime, Billy Bean disappeared from jazz. The liner notes ,which were written in January 2000, state that bassist Gaylor has been in touch with Bean. But there is no indication whether he has resumed performing in public.
The trio on this album recorded twice for Riverside Records in 1961. The first session was reissued by the Fantasy Group in 1999. Now comes England-based String Jazz label releasing the second album, The Trio Rediscovered. String Jazz, by the way, devotes its energies to recording guitar players, as the name implies. Billy Bean is clearly the leading player on this set. His harp like sound is clean and untrammeled with pings and other extraneous noises one often hears from those less expert on that instrument. The play list is a mix of originals by jazz performers of the day combined with standards by Porter, Gershwin, Strayhorn and Rodgers and Hart. In the case of Horace Silver's "Safari" written when he was with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, there's hard bop with a bit of the funk thrown in. In contrast the standards are played in a straight ahead fashion and on the "Porgy and Bess Medley". This track is a highlight of the album and is not matched elsewhere on the set for its intensity. "Have You Met Miss Jones" out and out swings while "Lush Life" compares favorably with recordings by Joe Pass and Bucky Pizzarelli.
While Bean is the musical, if not the group, leader the other players are by no means insignificant. Quite the contrary, Walter Norris' piano comps mightily in support of Bean and shines on several solo opportunities as on "Motivation". It seems that Norris has permanently made his home in Germany. Our loss. Without drums, Gaylor's bass is alone in making sure matters stay on course when it comes to the beat, a responsibility he meets with ease. This reissue is a fine addition to any jazz fan's collection and is recommended.
Track Listing: Motivation; Lush Life; All of You; Porgy & Bess Medley; Lands End; Have You Met Miss Jones; Grooveyard; Che-Low; Safari
Personnel: Billy Bean - Guitar; Walter Norris - Piano; Hal Gaylor - Bass