Clifford Jordan: Royal Ballads


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Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan is probably best known for the eight live and studio recordings he made in 1964 with the sextet led by bassist Charles Mingus. But there was much more to Jordan. A prolific recording artist, Jordan had a big, round sound from the start in March 1957, when his Blowing in From Chicago album was released on Blue Note. Jordan played as a sideman on the albums of several dozen jazz greats and recorded more than 35 albums as a leader. Rather than distinguish himself with a signature attack, like Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane and other saxophonists, Jordan focused more on perfecting a beautiful tone that seemed to linger in the air.

Royal Ballads was recorded late in Jordan's career at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey two days before Christmas in 1986. His album was the last of three recorded for Criss Cross, a Dutch jazz label. Jordan was backed by Kevin O'Connell (p), Ed Howard (b) and Vernel Fournier (d), who spent years tenderly backing pianist Ahmad Jamal, mostly on brushes. The album's tracks are Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life, Thelonious Monk's Panonica, Jordan's Royal Blues, Rodgers and Hart's Little Girl Blue, Vernel Fournier's Aramando, Duke Ellington and Bob Russell's Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Tom Adair and Matt Dennis's Everything Happens to Me and Monk's 'Round Midnight.

Interestingly, this album is perfect for those who are unfamiliar with Jordan and want to get a feel for his horn. Then I'd jump to his first ablum, Blowing in From Chicago with tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, and work forward. Royal Ballads has Jordan's silky sound, his lyrical improvisation and his full-range approach, reaching to the bottom of the register and the top on the same song. As I've written before, Jordan is often overlooked, largely because there wasn't a distinguishing spin to his style or tone. Just a smooth huskiness and rock-solid confidence.

Clifford Jordan died in 1993.

JazzWax tracks: Here's Everything Happens to Me...

And here's'Round Midnight...

Bonus: Here's Jordan with Dizzy Gillspie (tp) and Horace Parlan (p) in Köln, Germany in 1986 playing 'Round Midnight and Caravan...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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