Organist and pianist Sonny Phillips kept a rather low profile during his two decades in jazz. Born and raised in Alabama in 1936, Phillips headed to Chicago's DePaul University as a teen to pursue a career in education. At 20, he began studying privately with pianist Ahmad Jamal and started playing his own gigs in Chicago. Phillips joined Eddie Harris's band in 1963 and stayed with the tenor sax legend throughout most of the rest of the decade. By the late 1960s, Phillips was devoted to the Hammond B3 and headed to New York City, working with sax greats Rusty Bryant, Gene Ammons and Houston Person, who employed Phillips throughout most of the next decade.
Between 1969 and 1970, Phillips also recorded three discs of his own for Prestige Records, riffing over Prestige's usual stew of blues, ballads and boogaloos and offering unusual, but danceable originals like "Sure Nuff, Sure Nuff" and "Make It Plain." Phillips toured and recorded with Houston Person regularly over the next few years, penning two of Person's best songs: "Kittatian Carnaval" (from 1973's The Real Thing ) and "Preachin' and Teachin'" (from 1977, available on Person's 32 Jazz set Lost & Found ).
Sonny Phillips, who also began using his Muslim name, Jalal Rushdan, at this time, made only two more records under his own name, both for the Muse label: this 1976 session and 1977's I Concentrate On You, which could have easily been added in full to this CD. After a bout with cancer, Phillips fled to California and began teaching. He remains there today, proudly presenting piano recitals featuring his students.
My Black Flower is a nice reminder of what Phillips contributed to jazz. It's a pleasing blend of simple but varied medium-tempo soul riffs. The organist sets himself within a complimentary quintet (with second drummer Frankie Jones added for whatever reason to three tracks) featuring perfectly attuned and equally underrated guitarist Jimmy Ponder, flautist Galen Robinson, drummer Ben Dixon and percussionist Ralph Dorsey.
Phillips starts by revisiting Eddie Harris's soulful blues "Goin Home," (he also played on the 1966 original, included on 32 Jazz's Harris anthology, Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts ). "My Black Flower" switches gears completely and lets Phillips sit down at the grand piano for a solo feature that clearly displays Ahmad Jamal's influence. "Salaam 7" and "Jalal" are typical Phillips originals, offering familiar but forgettable riffs, but plenty of engaging solos from the organist and the guitarist (notable again on the wedding combo groove of "You Make Me Feel So Young"). The disc's strongest, and surely most played track will be "Me And Me Brudder," another one of Phillips's infectious "Kittatian Carnival"-like Jamaican grooves.
Phillips was never destined to shake the rafters, dethrone fellow organists Jimmy Smith or Larry Young or even eclipse the individual talents of other low-key players like John Patton, Leon Spencer or Clarence Palmer. He simply set out to share the benefit of music's joy and shared experience with listeners. That's what gives My Black Flower the interest it maintains today.
Songs:Goin Home; Salaam 7; My Black Flower; Me And Me Brudder; You Make Me Feel So Young; Jalal.
Players: Sonny Phillips: organ, piano; Jimmy Ponder: guitar; Galen Robinson: flute; Qaadir Almubeen Muhammad (Ben Dixon), Frankie Jones: drums; Ralph Dorsey: percussion.
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.