In 1967 many aspiring musicians picked up the guitar as their instrument of choice, but most were interested in becoming the next Bob Dylan rather than the next Wes Montgomery. It’s understandable, then, that Phil Upchurch’s debut as a leader got lost in the shuffle. At this point he had worked as a sideman with some of the best artists in the rhythm and blues field, like Otis Rush and B.B. King, and would later follow the fusion movement with George Benson’s outfit in the seventies. However, Feeling Blue demonstrates that he was more than capable of handling the spotlight.
Half of the selections feature a high octane horn section where Upchurch no doubt felt right at home, and the R&B leanings of “Feeling Blue” and “Muscle Soul” give the guitarist plenty of opportunities to exercise his chops, cleanly executed and tasteful at any speed. But when the group approaches jazz standards and pop tunes they fall prey to the over-orchestration that marred Wes Montgomery’s later releases. “Tangerine,” for instance, is too muscular, and “Up, Up, and Away” sounds horribly dated today.
If the entire session featured this approach, then the album as a whole would be clearly sub par. However, the real treats are the quintet tracks, in which Upchurch is the sole lead instrument and is backed by a crack rhythm section. The handful of jazz standards and originals showcase his skill with single note and chord-based solos. The guitarist makes serviceable material out of “Corcovado” and “I Want A Little Girl” but turns in two truly great performances with a heavily swinging “Israel” and a bluesy “Sabaceous Lament” that display a formidable soloist with a bit of edge and plenty of tasty licks. Released for the first time on CD, Feeling Blue is a great jazz guitar record that, while flawed, displays a musician of considerable talent.
Track Listing: 1. Felling Blue 2. Stop and Listen 3. Corcovado 4. Really Sincere 5. Tangerine 6. Up, Up, and Away 7. Israel 8. Sabaceous Lament 9. Muscle Soul 10. I Want A Little Girl.
Personnel: On 3, 4, 7, 8, 10: Phil Upchurch - guitar; Wynton Kelly - piano; Richard Davis - bass; Jimmy Cobb - drums; Montego Joe - congas. Other selections: Phil Upchurch - guitar; Wallace Davenport - trumpet; Ed Pazant, John Gilmore, Pat Patricl - reeds; Al Williams - piano, celeste; Chuck Rainey - electric bass; Bernard Purdie - drums; Warren Smith - congas, vibraharp.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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