Paul Gonsalves: '54 and '57

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Yesterday, I posted on tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and one of his late-career albums with piano wizard Earl Hines. Today, I want to give you a sense of how spectacular Gonsalves was on recordings in 1954 and '57. On the scale of playing styles, I'd put Gonsalves somewhere between Don Byas and Lucky Thompson, with Byas's puffy smoke-stack sound and Thompson's eely yearning.

But to be fair, Gonsalves had his own thing, marinated by his years nestled in Duke Ellington's deft, pretty reed section. Along the way, Gonsalves recorded in small groups, three of which stand out. Two were as a leader—The Jazz School and Cookin'—while the third was as a sideman, on The Colorful Strings of Jimmy Woode.

The Jazz School (EmArcy) was a compilation of 78s by different artists. The four-songs contribution by Gonsalves in February 1954 featured Gonsalves backed by Clark Terry on trumpet, Porter Kilbert (bar), Junior Mance (p), Chubby Jackson (b) and Gene Miller (d). There were two ballads and two up-tempo tunes. Don't Blame Me backed by It Don't Mean a Thing and Take Nine backed by Everything Happens to Me.

Of the three recordings, Cookin' (Argo) is the smoker. Clark, also an Ellingtonian, and Gonsalves were perfectly matched in terms of sound and improvisational beauty. The band features Clark Terry (tp), Paul Gonsalves (ts), Willie Jones (p), Jimmy Woode (b) and Sam Woodyard (d). On the first track, Festival, Gonsalves takes a fluid, stamina-busting solo that runs chorus after chorus. Clark's Bars is a delightfully melodic Clark original, and Daddy-O's Patio is a breezy dueling exchange. The Girl I Call Baby is a slow ballad blues that will knock you out.

The Colorful Strings of Jimmy Woode (Argo) is a showcase that features the upright bass and vocals of Woode, an Ellington stalwart. Recorded in September 1957, the album featured Clark Terry (tp), Mike Simpson (fl), Porter Kilbert (as), Paul Gonsalves (ts), Ramsey Lewis (p), Jimmy Woode (b,vcl) and Sam Woodyard (d).

There are no strings here, as in violins, violas and cellos. The “strings" refer to the ones on Woode's bass that were miked hot. You can hear him play clearly throughout. Gonsalves's solos are mighty, but what's equally extraordinary are Woode's songwriting and arranging skills. Five of the six tracks are his, and they're all solid and gorgeous. No comment on his singing.

In 1957, Gonsalves was in his prime with Ellington. Joining the band was something of a Faustian bargain. The band provided Gonsalves with steady work without the worry of scuffling or unemployment. The trade- off was less exposure than other jazz tenor saxophonists of the era—from Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to Sonny Stitt and Hank Mobley. Gonsalves was every bit as talented and versatile as his more visible peers, just salted away on the bandstand.

Though the cover is mislabeled (it should have said 1954 and 1957), the fidelity is terrific.

JazzWax clips: Here's Festival...



Here's The Girl I Call Baby...



And here's Don't Blame Me from 1954...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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