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Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron – The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings

Marc Davis By

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There aren't many jazz records I'd consider essential. This is one.

Granted, Fats Navarro isn't in the pantheon of jazz trumpeters. For starters, he didn't live long enough. He died in 1950 at age 26, so his discography is short. For another, Navarro's brief career overlapped that of trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie, and came just before trumpet greats Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. It's hard to stand out in that crowd.

But look closer: Fats Navarro produced some fantastic bebop alongside the era's greatest players. And he wasn't just a secondary band member. This 2-CD collection is solid proof.

This is jazz in the heart of the bebop era—36 tracks (including 14 alternate takes) recorded from 1947-49. And if it sounds at times like Bird and Diz... well, so what? If you like bebop, you will love these CDs.

On paper, pianist Tadd Dameron was the leader for half of these sessions, and he wrote much of the music, too. But Dameron is truly a background presence; he rarely takes the spotlight. This is an album for fans of trumpets and saxophones, and Navarro's fast, powerful voice is the star of most of these tunes.

These CDs cover seven different recording sessions, so the tone varies from date to date. The Navarro-Dameron cuts are best: pure bebop bliss. They feature saxmen such as Dexter Gordon, Charlie Rouse, Ernie Henry and Wardell Gray, alongside Navarro's trumpet. Another series of cuts feature Bud Powell on piano and Sonny Rollins on sax, in addition to Navarro. Two of my favorite tracks, two takes of "Double Talk," feature a trumpet battle between Navarro and Howard McGhee—barn-burners that remind me of Jazz at the Philharmonic.

And then there are a few odd cuts. Three uninteresting vocals. One cut with a Benny Goodman small group (!). And four Navarro-less tunes with a band that includes Dameron, trombonist J.J. Johnson and a very young Miles Davis.

But this is Fats Navarro's show, and it's a terrific one. If only he had lived longer.

(Note: An alternative to this collection is the more expansive 4-CD set The Fats Navarro Story, which includes a lot of earlier Navarro recordings with such greats as Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Dorham and Illinois Jacquet, among others, mostly for Savoy.)

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Easy to find, but not cheap

Cost: $22

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