Leroy Vinnegar: Walks Again!


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Bassist Leroy Vinnegar was born in 1928 in Indianapolis, began playing professionally in 1948, became part of the Bee Hive club's house rhythm section in Chicago in 1952 and moved to Los Angeles in 1954, where he recorded for the first time with pianist Lorraine Geller and drummer Larance Marable. In L.A., Vinnegar became a prolific player in a town loaded with spectacular bassists. What helped Vinnegar stand out was his powerful walking bass style—four beats to the bar with grand melodic feeling.

In August 1962, Vinnegar recorded five tracks as a leader backed by Freddie Hill (tp), Teddy Edwards (ts), Victor Feldman (p,vib) and Ron Jefferson. In March 1963, Vinnegar recorded another three tracks with Freddie Hill (tp), Teddy Edwards (ts), Mike Melvoin (p) Milt Turner (d) and Roy Ayers (vib). The result was Leroy Walks Again!!, a follow-up to an earlier sextet album on Contemporary from July 1957 called Leroy Walks!

The feel throughout is driving West Coast hard bop, with Vinnegar pounding out the bass lines and Hill and Edwards jockeying for solo supremacy. But unlike East Coast hard bop, the emphasis here is less on pyrotechnics and more on nuance. Beauty takes priority over brazen beats and sizzling horn lines.

Hard to Follow, Subway Grate and For Carl (written for Carl Perkins who died in L.A. in 1958) are by Vinnegar. Restin' in Jail was written by Les McCann for this session, Down Under, by Freddie Hill [pictured above], was recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1961 on Mosaic (Blue Note), and Motherland was by a friend of Vinnegar. I'll String Along With You is a standard and Wheelin' and Dealin' is an up-tempo blues.

What's most interesting about Vinnegar here is his strict walking style on a hard bop session. Instead of a quick-draw bass technique with conversational lines, Vinnegar thumps along, letting the piano and drums fill the empty spaces. Also notable is Edwards' [pictured above] smokey edge on tenor and Hill's round heat on trumpet. The rhythm section musicians were chosen wisely. They come together with a gentle purring rather than a roar.

Vinnegar's walking bass style is something to behold. But as we can hear on I'll String Along with You, he also was a fine soloist who loved melodies and played his instrument like a singer. Vinnegar died in 1999. [Photo above of Leroy Vinnegar by Owen Carey]

JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately, this one isn't in print but  is available used for about $20 from independent sellers here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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