Make a difference: Support jazz online

Support All About Jazz Your friends at All About Jazz are looking for readers to help back our website upgrade project. Of critical importance, this project will result in a vastly improved design across all devices and will make future All About Jazz projects much easier to implement. Click here to learn more about this project including donation rewards.

12

Anthony Ortega

Robert Spencer By

Sign in to view read count
Here is a man who has played with Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Paul Bley, Quincy Jones, Don Ellis, Dinah Washington. Here is a man whose alto saxophone playing has been compared to Charlie Parker's and Ornette Coleman's—both with just cause. Here is a man whose Sixties sessions, long out of print for the most part, are revered by collectors, who hunt them down assiduously—because there have been a few people all these years who knew what Anthony Ortega was doing, and couldn't stand the idea of missing him as he did it.

He was born in 1928: before Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman (John Coltrane and Miles Davis were two). He joined Earle Spencer's Orchestra in 1947, and Hamp's in 1951. He led his own group. He went to Europe. He gigged in New York with some of the biggest names in the business. Recognition came to them, but not to him. Only they—Dizzy, Hamp, Maynard—knew he was in their league.

He kept working, along with his wife Mona Ørbeck Ortega: composing and interpreting standards as only he can: approaching them lovingly and caressing them with care, and occasionally adding the hotfoot to the mix that makes his playing so outstandingly original and unexpected. He has a beautiful tone that serves as the foundation for his outrageous versatility and ability to invest an improvisation with firepower far beyond the ordinary. He bridges the "avant-garde" and the "mainstream": he plays melodies, gorgeously, but he finds possibilities in them that lesser players overlook, or don't dare to explore.

In the Fifties and Sixties he recorded as a leader: a string of legendary and elusive discs. Best known is New Dance! (1966), which was re-released on CD in the Nineties on hat ART and will soon appear again, to hosannas from those who have waited this long, on hatOLOGY. But it remains to be seen whether these ever reappear: modest masterpieces like Anthony Ortega (1954), Jazz for Young Moderns (1958), Man and His Horn (1961), Permutations (1966), and the later Rain Dance (1978). On the French Evidence label there are a couple of Nineties-vintage easier-to-track-down discs: On Evidence and Neuf (see the "Unsung Recordings").

Through it all, the recognition that should have been his eluded him. Was it just? Try this: get hold of an Ortega disc and play it right after a recent recording by any contemporary alto saxophonist you care to name. That's right: any one. See who comes out with more to say with his horn. (My money's on Anthony!)

Now there is Anthony's new Hat: Scattered Clouds. It's a welcome return to the scene for a man who has in fact never been away. It's not too late to make the acquaintance of this supreme altoman.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Ranky Tanky: African Rhythms Preserved Profiles Ranky Tanky: African Rhythms Preserved
by Martin McFie
Published: January 18, 2018
Read Zara McFarlane: Embodying the Spirit of Jamaica Profiles Zara McFarlane: Embodying the Spirit of Jamaica
by David Burke
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Fabian Almazan: Environmental Action Figure Profiles Fabian Almazan: Environmental Action Figure
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: January 9, 2018
Read Gilly’s Remembered Profiles Gilly’s Remembered
by Michael J. Williams
Published: November 30, 2017
Read Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease Profiles Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease
by Greg Thomas
Published: November 23, 2017
Read "Billy Krechmer: A Philadelphia Story" Profiles Billy Krechmer: A Philadelphia Story
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: March 15, 2017
Read "Glen Campbell: 1936-2017" Profiles Glen Campbell: 1936-2017
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: August 13, 2017
Read "Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease" Profiles Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease
by Greg Thomas
Published: November 23, 2017
Read "Malcolm Griffiths: A Man For All Seasons" Profiles Malcolm Griffiths: A Man For All Seasons
by Duncan Heining
Published: May 4, 2017