Chances are good that the name of bassist Leroy Vinnegar
does not ring much of a bell among contemporary audiences. He does not have the cachet of a Ray Brown
or an Oscar Pettiford
, two names that a lot of professional bassists will instantly recognize, along with Scott LaFaro
, with whom Vinnegar all too briefly overlapped.
It is a bit surprising, although no one ever claimed that Vinnegar was a revolutionary. He was clearly in the line of Jimmy Blanton
, with whom he was occasionally compared. But in the mid-1950s, Vinnegar was one of the hottest new talents in jazz, a poll winner and lots of that sort of thing. When he played with Shelly Manne
, critics, even rough ones, praised him extravagantly, calling Manne and Vinnegar one of the best rhythm sections ever (somehow though, they left Andre Previn, who was part of it too, mostly out of the picture). People praised Vinnegar's propulsive and swinging lines, full round sound, and willingness to secure the lower register, even if it meant his choice of notes was somewhat limited. Above all, Vinnegar could walk, that most elementary, vital skill of a jazz bassist. Vinnegar was physically an imposing presence at 6'4," and his sound and pulse brought him lots of work and visibility. He was severely injured in an automobile accident in 1958, but he did return. Whether the lingering effects of the mishap affected his playing is an open question, but it would seem as if he peaked early, around 1962 or so. After that, players like Steve Swallow
and Scott La Faro generated considerably more buzz. Leroy Walks!
was his debut album as a leader in 1957 on Contemporary, and has in 2023 been reissued by audiophile label Craft. For anyone who wants to get a fair sampling of what Vinnegar's playing was about, this is as good a place as any to start. Vinnegar is surrounded by players who range from competent to very good, although whether any other than Carl Perkins
on piano are displayed to their best advantage is debatable. As it should be, this is Leroy Vinnegar's show, and a good show of walking bass it is. The rest tend to fade into the background. Gerald Wilson
is accorded some solo space on trumpet, as is Victor Feldman
on vibraharp, who also did some of the arranging. Neither is particularly memorable and Tony Bazley on drums is adequate. Nat Hentoff
's liner notes made it clear that Vinnegar had his full support, which was nothing to laugh at in those days. Hentoff correctly notes that Vinnegar spent most of his time playing roots, and that rhythmic playing was clearly his forte. If Vinnegar sounds like a straightforward elaboration of the Blanton school of playing, it is because he was.
This recording is a historical artifact, but it garnered high praise in 1958. Do keep that in mind when listening to it.
Walk On; Would You Like to Take a Walk; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Walking; Walking' My Baby Back
Home; I'll Walk Alone; Walking' By The River
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