20 Special Fingers is an unusual two-disc combination of Les McCann's 1968 Atlantic debut, Much Les (already available on CD as a Rhino two-fer) with the Mitchell-Ruff Trio's 1961 Atlantic debut, The Catbird Seat. Joel Dorn, producer of the McCann set and owner of the label that issued this set, explains this oddity by recalling in the disc's notes a favorite McCann performance of "Yours Is My Heart Alone" (from 1964) that was evidently inspired by Dwike Mitchell's earlier performance of the tune.
While inspiration and execution rarely sound the same, interesting pianism is certainly consistent among the two sets (and the meaning behind the disc's awkward title).
McCann's set is filled with earthy, gospel tones of his well-known trio, supplemented by tasteful Latin percussion and William Fischer's always subtle and warmly welcome command of a small string section. "Doin That Thing" is the disc's simmering funk centerpiece, a sensual McCann-Fischer knockout. A blistering take on "Love For Sale" (like "Doin' That Thing," also well featured on last year's live set How's Your Mother? ) is another highlight. "Burning Coal," "Benjamin" and "Roberta" (for McCann's protégé, Roberta Flack) are familiar McCann staples and the set also features the first appearance of McCann's vocal ballad, "With These Hands."
The Mitchell-Ruff Trio's set, on the other hand, seems stark and intellectual by comparison. But it's an utter delight. The pianist, a synergy of the most notable aspects of both Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans, was often recorded with bassist Willie Ruff, who also doubled on French horn. The two met as part of Lionel Hampton's mid-1950s band and recorded together (notably with Dizzy Gillespie) into the 1980s. Here, they add drummer Charlie Smith to give this genuinely interesting and affecting program a familiar interpretation by a standard piano trio. It's anything but. Each of these half-dozen songs explores great depths and, ultimately, elicits fascinating logic and consideration. Mitchell's title cut, a slow blues, and the ostensibly humorous "Gypsy in my Soul" engage head and heart. The standards "Street of Dreams" and "I'll Remember April" seem out of the ordinary, too, if not wholly extraordinary upon each return.
Both sets here are worthy of interest and attention, but in quite different ways and easily enjoyed - but probably on separate occasions. Still worth checking out.
Songs:From Much Les : Doin' That Thing; With These Hands; Burnin' Coal; Benjamin; Love For Sale; Roberta. From The Catbird Seat : The Catbird Seat; Street of Dreams; So In Love; Con Alma; Gypsy in my Soul; I'll Remember April.
Players:From Much Les : Les McCann: piano; Leroy Vinnegar: bass; Donald Dean: drums; Willie Bobo; timabales; Victor Pantoja: conga; Ron Carter, Selwart Clarke, Winston Collymore, Noel DaCosta, Richard Elias, Emanuel Green, Theodore Israel, Warren Laffredo, Kermit Moore, Harvey Shapiro: strings; Willian Fischer: director. From The Catbird Seat : Dwike Mitchell: piano; Willie Ruff: bass; Charlie Smith: drums.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.