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Harold Land - A West Coaster Worth Surfing For


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Hard bop saxophonist Harold Land (1928-2001) grew up in San Diego and started playing saxophone at the age of 16. He recorded some early sides as a leader in the late 1940s, but he really came into his own in 1954 when he joined the famous Clifford Brown/Max Roach quintet. He toured and recorded with the group for a couple of years before returning to Los Angeles to be with his family.

Land remains lesser known because he spent his career on the West Coast, although his playing style does not fit the conventional definition of West Coast jazz. Rather, he falls well within the hard bop school. His tone was strong but had a somewhat melancholy edge to it, which added glints of emotion and even a certain vulnerability to his playing.

In Los Angeles, he recorded with the likes of Curtis Counce on You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce! (1956) and with Red Mitchell. In 1958, his leader date Harold in the Land of Jazz was released by Contemporary Records chased by The Fox the following year. One of my personal favorite Land albums, West Coast Blues!, was released in 1960. It was recorded in San Francisco, with Wes Montgomery on guitar, Joe Gordon on trumpet, and the rhythm section from Cannonball Adderley's quintet (Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes).The title number is a good sample of the excellent playing throughout.

In the late 1960s, he formed a group with vibes player Bobby Hutcherson, which recorded several albums with Blue Note Records. From this period onward, his playing took on a new level of intensity, which Land himself ascribed to the influence of John Coltrane. In the 1980s and 1990s, he toured with the Timeless All-Stars, sponsored by the jazz label of the same name. This group included Hutcherson, Cedar Walton on piano, and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Land was also a professor in the University of California, Los Angeles, Jazz Studies Program, along with guitarist Kenny Burrell. He died of a stroke in 2001.

For more on West Coast jazz, see “Sand, Surf, and Sax: West Coast Jazz Album Covers."

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