Flip Phillips, like Charlie Ventura, was cut from the same hyperactive cloth. Both tenor saxophonists crossed over to bop from the tail end of the swing era and both were born ready to jump and jam. While Ventura came up influenced by Coleman Hawkins's tough 'n' gruff approach to the instrument, Phillips was more of a Lester Young man. He could sail along like a paper plane, blowing yawning lines on up-tempo cookers and steamy ballads.
In late 1946, Phillips began recording for Norman Granz's Clef label as part of the producer's Jazz at the Philharmonic touring supergroups. Phillips recorded with Charlie Parker multiple times, notably on Neal Hefti's Repetition session in '47, on the JATP concert at Carnegie Hall in '49, and Parker's Night and Day big band date in '52. Phillips also recorded as a soloist with Machito's Latin-jazz band sessions (with and without Parker) in the late 1940s, with Billie Holiday on her Clef sessions in the early '50s and together with trombonist Bill Harris.
One of my favorite Phillips albums for Clef was Rock With Flip. Recorded in September 1954, Phillips was backed by Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b) and Buddy Rich (d). The tracks were Almost Like Being in Love, Singin' the Blues, All of Me, I'll Never Be the Same, Lemon Aid 21, Birth of the Blues, I've Got the World on a String and The Lady's in Love With You.
As Dan Morgenstern's liner notes for Mosaic's Complete Verve/Clef Charlie Ventura & Flip Phillips Studio Sessions point out, Lemon Aid 21 was dedicated to Phillips' friend and baseball great, pitcher Bob Lemon, who wore No. 21 with the Cleveland Indians. As for great, Rock With Flip has it all—Phillips' soulful ballads, jumping blues and songbook standards. What you'll notice is that while Phillips may have been influenced by Young (who also recorded for Granz), he was hardly a copycat. Phillips had his own distinctive and commanding sound, especially when filling gaps with imaginative runs.
Rock With Flip was Phillips's last studio session for Granz as a leader, but it's important to note that Phillips continued to record for Granz as a sideman until 1957.
Flip Phillips died in 2001.
JazzWax tracks: Rock With Flip is hard to find on CD or a download. If you have the cash, do yourself a favor and buy the six-CD Mosaic box mentioned above on eBay.
JazzWax note: For more on Norman Granz, pick up Tad Hershorn's Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice.
JazzWax clips: Here's the full album...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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