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Blue Mitchell

Robert Spencer By

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All About Jazz contributing writer C. Andrew Hovan said it best: "Those of you that are longtime jazz fans, take a few minutes and see how many jazz trumpeters you can name in the next minute. All done? I'm sure many of you remember Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong, and Buck Clayton, just to name a few. Now, how many of you mentioned the name of Blue Mitchell? This trumpeter's greatest success came during his memorable stay with the Horace Silver Quintet during the early '60s, however his first dates as a leader for Riverside and subsequent work for Blue Note, the topic of discussion here, would mark him as one of the finest players of his generation."

See that? Bet you thought you knew all the Brownies. Yet one of the best, tragically, has almost certainly slipped through your fingers. Until now.

Richard "Blue" Mitchell was from Miami. Born in 1930. Like many others, he appeared in New York in the early Fifties and started turning heads. Worked with Earl Bostic, who is relatively unknown today although he also numbered a certain Mr. Coltrane among his sidemen at one time or another.

Blue played with Horace Silver. Cannonball. Philly Joe. Johnny Griffin. Art Blakey. Jimmy Heath. Pepper Adams. Curtis Fuller. Wynton Kelly. Cedar Walton. Mr. P.C. Tommy Flanagan. He recorded in the ever-treacherous trumpet quartet setting (Blue's Moods), in quintets and sextets, and with an orchestra (plus brass aces)—like Bird (Smooth as the Wind)—and with a wind ensemble—like Miles (A Sure Thing). But he was no imitator. Richly melodic, not as pyrotechnical as Morgan or as fragile as Miles, Blue Mitchell was a mellow trumpeter, a singer, a craftsman.

Blue Mitchell died in 1979. Cancer. Just before Wynton Marsalis reached back and pulled the kind of jazz Blue and others had made out of the dustbin of history and re-anointed it as the mainstream. By the time of his death Blue was in LA, getting what work he could. His biggest days with Blue Note had long past. But what might have happened if he had lived to see the revival?

One thing, certainly: we would have seen a good deal more of his glorious playing, his keen ensemble work, his mastery of bop, his improvisational acumen and taste, his imaginative recreations of standards. But instead, we have to be satisfied with what we have: a stunning series of Riversides, and a gemlike Blue Note run now collected on Mosaic. Reach for them, and discover one of the great ones.

Familiar with Blue Mitchell's music? We welcome your comments.
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