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Although saxophonist Curtis Amy gained wide exposure taking solos on pop tunes like the Doors' "Touch Me" and Carole King's "It's Too Late," he was in fact a superior jazz musician, a soulful, warm hard bop Texas tenor, and a probing soprano soloist. He was also a provocative, wholly original composer. Between 1960 and 1963, Amy recorded six albums for Pacific Jazz, including the brilliant Katanga!, all of which are reissued here on the seventh installment in the Mosaic Select series.
Disc one contains The Blues Message and Meetin' Here, with a quintet Amy co-led with organist Paul Bryant. While these are both essentially typical early 1960's soul jazz/hard bop sessions, they offer driving swing, able solos by Bryant and the obscure valve trombonist Roy Brewster, and Amy's big-toned, cooking tenor.
Disc two gets a lot more interesting. The sextet session Groovin' Blue is creative hard bop with a sextet that includes Amy, the wonderful drummer Frank Butler, and two then-unknown young musicians named Carmell Jones and Bobby Hutcherson. The solos are sparkling, Butler's drumming is explosive, and Amy shows remarkable growth as a composer. He favors minor keys, arranged interludes, and unusual structures. His fast waltz "Bobblin'" is very challenging, yet still melodic. Way Down is another sextet, in which Roy Brewster alternates the brass chair with Marcus Belgrave, and a young Roy Ayers, on vibes, reminds us just how very good a jazz player he was. Amy's work on "All My Life" and his anthemic original "Bells And Horns" is particularly noteworthy.
Disc Three starts with the live date Tippin' On Through, a mix of Amy originals and standards, on which Amy and Ayers shine. Then comes the great Katanga!, an altogether remarkable effort in which Amy expands into the modal music that was being pioneered by John Coltrane at the time. Amy plays soprano sax as well as tenor, showing little of Coltrane's influence other than the use of modes for improvisations. Amy's soprano retains the purr and moan of his tenor, and it is heard to excellent advantage on the waltz "Native Land." In addition to Amy, Katanga features the little-known but gifted musicians Jack Wilson, Ray Crawford, and above all, the trumpeter Dupree Bolton, whose only known record dates are Harold Land's The Fox, and this one. Bolton's playing by itself is almost worth the price of admission.
After Katanga!, Amy didn't make another jazz record until 1994, when he recorded Peace For Love for Fresh Sound. In between, he was an in-demand studio musician and an executive for Ode Records. But thanks to Mosaic, Curtis Amy has been rescued from perpetual obscurity, with his fresh vision of hard bop made available once again. By the way, the remastered sound is excellent.
Issued in limited editions of 5000, this recording is available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT. 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information.
Track Listing: Disc One: Searchin', Goin' Down Catch Me A Woman, The Blues Message, Come Rain Or Come Shine, This Is The Blues, Meetin' Here, Early In The Morning, If I Were A Bell, One More Hamhock Please, Angel Eyes, Just Friends. Disc Two: Gone Into It, Annsome, Bobblin', Groovin' Blue, Beautiful You, Way Down, Liberia, 24 Hours Blues, Lisa, A Soulful Bee A Soulful Rose, All My Life, Bells And Horns. Disc Three: Tippin' On Through, Funk In The Evening, For Ayers Only, In Your Own Sweet Way, Summertime, Set Call, Katanga, Lonely Woman, Native Land, Amyable, You Don't Know What Love Is, A Shade Of Brown, Very Frank.
Personnel: Curtis Amy, tenor sax, soprano sax; Carmell Jones, Marcus Belgrave, Dupree Bolton, trumpet; Roy Brewster, valve trombone; Bobby Hutcherson, Roy Ayers, vibes; Ray Crawford, guitar; Frank Strazzeri, John Houston, Victor Feldman, Jack Wilson, piano; Paul Bryant, organ; Clarence Jones, Jimmy Bond, George Morrow, Bob Whitlock, bass; Jimmy Miller, Frank Butler, Tony Bazley, Larance Marable, Doug Sides, drums.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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