A number of shopworn lines might be used to characterizeKeep That Groove Going!, a session co-led by Plas Johnson and Red Holloway. Bromides such as “A battle between two veteran tenor saxophonists,” and “A heady combination of blues and bebop” contain more than a grain of truth, yet ultimately obscure the larger picture. Beneath the emotionally charged surface of both Johnson and Holloway’s playing lies a wellspring of intelligence and good taste. Guided by an exceptionally tight rhythm section consisting of Hammond B-3 organist Gene Ludwig, guitarist Melvin Sparks, and drummer Kenny Washington, the septuagenarians tackle a diverse program that refutes the notion that there are artistic limitations in sustaining a groove.
It only takes a few bars of Johnson and Holloway’s jubilant unison statement on Coleman Hawkins’ “Stuffy” to realize something special is happening. Holloway starts the solos by digging right into the medium tempo and builds an edifice consisting of short phrases that wallow in his rich tone, leaving plenty of space for the rhythm section to fill. All the while Washington nips at his heels with prickly accents on the snare drum. Inspired by Ludwig’s comping, Johnson fashions a droll statement out of long bent notes and brief passages that flash on and off like an irregular neon sign. Using the metallic click of Washington’s hi-hat as a rhythmic guidepost, Ludwig’s all-too-brief turn swings intensely without ever breaking into a sweat.
Some of Holloway and Johnson’s most memorable playing occurs during their respective ballad features. Holloway doesn’t so much play the melody of “Serenade in Blue” as he caresses it, resembling something out of a heavenly dream. With a pointed note here and jagged phrase there, his solo moves in a virile swagger; eventually culminating in a succession of blues based declarations. Breaking out from his usual pensive manner, Ludwig follows, sounding uncharacteristically frisky by playing brisk lines that threaten to lose control before coming back into the fold. His ominous chords provide a fitting introduction to Johnson’s stunning performance of “Cry Me a River.” The first time around, the tenor saxophonist poignantly plays the initial part of the melody, hitting the first note hard and bending it before continuing as if exhausted from the effort. Johnson’s repeat of the same section is startling in its use of the bebop lexicon, sounding like a brief outpouring of anguish.
Track Listing: Keep That Groove Going!; Stuffy; Serenade in Blue; Go Red Go; Bretheren!; Pass the Gravy; Jammin' for Mr. Lee; Cry Me a River; Dream a Little Dream of Me.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.