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Who is Howard McGhee?. Howard McGhee (1918 - 1987) today might be considered a footnote (albeit a large one) in jazz. But, during the rise of Bebop in the mid '40s to '50s he was considered one of the most technically proficient and inventive trumpeters performing. Critic Scott Yanow defined McGhee as the "missing [influential] link" between Roy Eldridge and Theodore "Fats" Navarro, the latter going onto influence Clifford Brown, who in turn influenced many other trumpet players in the 1950s and '60s. McGhee was prominent on both the East and West Coasts, being present to the fabled Minton's after-hours sessions in NYC and predating by several months Bird and Birk's modern jazz at Bill Berg's in Los Angeles in the mid '40s (and just prior to Parker’s relaxation at Camarillo). Like many musicians during the same period, chemical dependency attenuated McGhee's brilliant career, though he did enjoy a minor resurgence in the early '60s and the late 70's before slipping permanently back into obscurity.
That Blue Note Thing. The Blue Note Connoisseur Series was initiated in 1994, providing, according to promotion, old Blue Note Catalog sessions whose “historical importance and artistic merit far exceed their long term sales potential”. These current releases are described as the “Connoisseur 10" Series”, each compact disc containing two original ten inch long-playing albums (33 & 1/3 rpm). In the case of these two Howard McGhee CDs, Blue Note very intelligently coupled the McGhee 10” records with ones released by members of McGhee’s band (The Kenny Drew Trio in the case of Howard McGee and the Tal Farlow Quartet on Howard McGee, Volume 2. These recordings are like 40 year-old black-and-white photographs, snapshots of period performance and recording.
Maggie’s Lament. These recordings were made shortly before McGhee entered an erratic period of recording. According to the available McGhee recordings (according to The All Music Guide to Jazz these Blue Note sides (recorded in 1950 and 1953) would fall in a period where he was also recording for Savoy ( Maggie: The Savoy Sessions and South Pacific Jazz ). The releases are typically Bebop sessions with small combos. The music is populated with more original compositions than standards, indicating McGhee's (and his side personnel's) desire to move parallel with Parker and Gillespie through the developing Modern Jazz. Recorded January 23, 1950, Howard McGhee finds a young Kenny Drew making his recording debut and providing two-thirds of the recorded music. The coupling with Introducing the Kenny Drew Trio was a super idea. The Tal Farlow coupling is equally as fine and all of the music is vintage Blue Note and Bebop.
Critical Moments. The "Phoenix Syndrome" in 1950's jazz is a cliche. A young and promising jazz musician records brilliantly early in his career, is introduced to drugs, spends a decade in jail, and reemerges for a "Comeback". Generally, the musician's playing style changes between periods. The most archetypal example is that of Art Pepper. Pepper had a completely original alto sound (a hard thing to do with Parker's presence and memory), dry-ice cool in the 1950s, spent 15 years in and out of prison, only to re-emerge for his Götterdammerung in 1977 at New York City's Village Vanguard. His sound became more urgent and ragged, eclipsing his earlier work in volume and emotion. Howard McGhee followed a similar life path, but his style did the opposite. He started with a style as fast and accurate as Dizzy Gillespie's and ended with a precise, round, content sound. These Blue Note releases provide a fitting juxtaposition to McGhee' later and more satisfying work ( Maggies Back in Town Original Jazz Classics 693-2 for example).
Howard McGee/Meciendo, Lo-Flame, Fluid Drive, I'll Remember April, Fuguetta, Donnellon Square, Lo-Flame (alt).Introducing the Kenny Drew Trio/Yesterdays, Stella By Starlight, Gloria, Be My Love, Lover Come Back to Me, Everything Happens to Me, It Might as Well be Spring, Drew's Blues, Yesterdays (alt), Everything Happens to Me (alt).
Howard McGee Volume 2/Jarm, Goodbye, Futurity, Shabozz, Tranquility, Ittapnna, Jarm (alt)Tal Farlow Quartet/Lover, Flamingo, Splash, Rock n, Rye, All Through The Night, Tina.
Howard McGee/Howard McGhee: Trumpet; J.J. Johnson: Trombone, Brew Moore: Tenor Saxophone, Kenny Drew: Piano, Curly Russell: Bass, Max Roach: Drums.Introducing the Kenny Drew Trio/Kenny Drew: Piano, Curly Russell: Bass, Max Roach: Drums.
Howard McGee Volume 2/Howard McGhee: Trumpet; Gigi Gryce, Alto Saxophone; Tal Farlow: Guitar; Horace Silver: Piano; Percy Heath: Bass; Walter Bolden: Drums.Tal Farlow Quartet/Tal Farlow, Don Arnone: Guitars; Clyde Lombardi: Bass; Joe Morello: Drums.