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John Bailey: Can You Imagine?

Jack Bowers BY

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John Bailey: Can You Imagine?
Letting his imagination roam free, trumpeter John Bailey envisions a world in which one of his musical touchstones, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, is president of the United States—one in which Gillespie's cabinet includes Duke Ellington (secretary of state), Louis Armstrong (secretary of agriculture) and Miles Davis (CIA director). The fact is, Gillespie did "run" for president in 1964, a crusade that was far more satirical than serious. Nevertheless, as was his fashion, Gillespie milked his "candidacy" for all it was worth, with a tongue-in-cheek platform, banners, badges and a number of "campaign speeches" from his pulpit at various concerts. As we know, Gillespie did not earn the prize, but Can You Imagine a country (and world) in which he had beaten the odds and gained entry to the White House (which he intended to rename the Blues House)?

Bailey certainly can, and salutes the "Gillespie administration" with the inspiring three-part President Gillespie Suite ("The Humanitarian Candidate," "Road to the Blues House," "President Gillespie's Birthday Song"), which Bailey composed and arranged (as he did the breezy opener, "Pebbles in the Pocket," and the beguiling "Blues House"). In keeping with Gillespie's ethos, Bailey's album, in which he leads an admirable sextet, is awash in swinging, bop-centered motifs wherein his nimble trumpet plays a leading role. Bailey shares the front line with saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trombonist Stafford Hunter, while pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Victor Lewis comprise the group's top-drawer rhythm section. Along the way, the ensemble welcomes guests Janet Axelrod (flute on Dillard's "Elite State of Mind," alto flute on Chico O'Farrill's "Ballad from Oro," bass and alto flute on Chico Buarque / Francis Hime's meditative "Valsa Rancho") and Earl McIntyre (bass trombone on "Humanitarian Candidate," tuba on the easygoing "Oro").

Dillard, Hunter and Gomez are sharp and able soloists, as is McIntyre (Axelrod's tasks are confined for the most part to melodic support). As for Bailey, there's a lot of Gillespie in his expressive horn, alongside glimpses of Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and other hard-boppers, deftly interwoven to produce Bailey's singular voice. Besides keeping exemplary time, Lewis wrote "The Touch of Her Vibe" and "From the Heart," each of which helps enhance the session. The sextet rings down the curtain with the Barbra Streisand chart-topper, "People." Whatever else one may surmise about a Gillespie presidency, Bailey and his colleagues leave no doubt that it would swing with soul in the best tradition of Gillespie himself. Compared to some (not naming names), a presidency whose warm-heartedness and candor might well gladden the hearts and minds of a dispirited populace.

Track Listing

Pebbles In The Pocket; President Gillespie Suite: I. The Humanitarian Candidate, II. Road To The Blues House, President Gillespie's Birthday Song; The Touch Of Her Vibe; The Blues House; Ballad From Oro, Incienso Y Mira; Elite State Of Mind; Valsa Rancho; From The Heart; People.


Earl McIntyre: bass trombone, tuba (2, 5); Janet Axelrod: flute, alto flute, bass flutes (5-7).

Album information

Title: Can You Imagine? | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Produced

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