We should all stand up right now and applaud Alfred Lion and Rudy Van Gelder of Blue Note Records for rolling the tapes at Birdland on a February night in 1954.
Lion and Van Gelder captured drummer Art Blakey's quintet at the New York nightclub on a night when they were really cooking. Because of their efforts, listeners have been able to relive A Night at Birdland whenever they wanted to. Now, Van Gelder has digitally remastered the two-volume set.
Originally, nine songs recorded that night were released on three 10-inch records. Two years later, an alternate take of Horace Silver's "Quicksilver" had been added to the expanded 12-inch format. In 1975, three additional songs and an alternate track of "Wee-Dot" were added to the two albums.
Volume Two features the quote from Blakey that became the credo for what would become the Jazz Messengers: "I'm going to stay with the youngsters. When these get too old, I'm going to get some younger ones. It keeps the mind active."
The two discs (sold separately) have some amazing performances from Blakey's quintet, including their interpretations of classics like "A Night in Tunisia," "Now's the Time" and "Confirmation" (also, check out the drum break on "Mayreh" and "The Way You Look Tonight").
"Once in a While" features the incredible talent of Brown, who's able to create a gentle melody, then weave in and out of the chords in the cut-time section with the greatest of ease. Meanwhile, Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown lay down monster solos behind Silver's chords on the improvised tune simply titled "Blues," the backbone of what would be coined hard bop. Silver even takes a romp around the keys.
"Wee-Dot" and "Quicksilver" each have alternate takes, but the master version of “Wee-Dot” has more prodding from Blakey, as well as the alternate version of "Quicksilver," which has a faster tempo. Curly Russell is given a chance to solo on both alternates. Listening to these two songs side-by-side with their alternate tracks shows the quintet's amazing ability to create something new for the same tune.
To put it simply, Blakey and company had clicked that night at Birdland.
Reprinted with permission from The Villages Daily Sun, Lady Lake, Fla.
Track Listing: Disc 1: Announcement by Pee Wee Marquette; Split Kick; Once in a While; Quicksilver; A Night in Tunisia; Mayreh; Wee-Dot (alternate take)*; Blues (improvisation)*; Disc 2: Wee-Dot; If I Had You; Quicksilver (alternate take); Now's the Time; Confirmation; The Way You Look Tonight*; Lou's Blues* (* bonus track not on original 12-inch album)
I love jazz because next to my kids, it's the love of my life.
I was first exposed to jazz by Joe Rico from a tiny station in Niagara Falls in 1954 when I was 13.
The best show I ever attended was Maynard Ferguson who blew the roof off Massey Hall in the late 50s.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to everything you can and then listen again.