Right out of the gate, tenor man Willis Jackson signals that “Pool Shark” is going to be about the kind of hip boss shoutin’ (to borrow a Jackson album title) that was part and parcel of the Chitlin’ Circuit back in the days. With a Charleston beat that sets up a static background, Jackson tells his story with gusto right up to a Basie-like ending. By contrast, “Somewhere Along the Way” gets its bravado from Carl Wilson’s rich organ sonorities and then Jackson goes for the heart with a ballad performance of ‘Jug’ proportions. These are just the first two cuts from Nuther’n Like Thuther’n, but they set up the formula that follows through the rest of the eleven tracks which originally made up the album releases More Gravy and Boss Shoutin’.
While the casual listener might dismiss the music contained herein as just another run of the mill organ date, they’d be missing the point in that Jackson always seemed to have a knack for taking even the basic 12-bar blues (such as on “Stuffin”) and making it swing in a deeply satisfying way. His own improvisations are marked by a robust and full-bodied timbre that was clearly in the lineage of greats such as Ben Webster and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. It probably didn’t hurt too that the edition of Jackson’s combo heard here also included a very young Pat Martino (listed on the original albums as Pat Azzara), already displaying some dazzling chops in the limited solo forays he’s allowed.
Aside from Martino and bassists Sam Jones and George Tucker, none of the men featured with Jackson are familiar names, yet the chemistry they share with him is immediately obvious. So too is it a delight to hear the trumpet work of Frank Robinson, his muted lead with Jackson on “Fiddlin’” especially agreeable. But then there’s nothing here that could be considered filler. Jackson’s originals find new paths to tread even if the general road is a familiar one. Thanks again go to Fantasy for brining so much of Jackson’s Prestige catalog back into circulation. The music is deserving of a new audience.
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition. He was on the band bus the next day as Dorsey's alto sax and clarinet player, and never looked back. He played with great bandleaders such as Freddie Martin, Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley, some before he was out of his teens (they had to lie about his age to get him into nightclubs). Many older musicians have told me he was the greatest alto sax player they ever worked with. He was equally great on clarinet and was clarinetist and harmony singer for cocktail jazz pioneers, the Ernie Felice Quartet.
He eventually left the road and settled down, and that's when I came in. By that time, he was, by day, vocal group session leader/player/arranger for classic jingles and commercial music produced in Dallas. At night, he played in society bands, jazz combos and elegant showrooms. Tuesdays were slow in the showrooms, so band members' families got in free, and my mom took me to see him backing such legends as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Steve and Eydie, and a very old Ella Fitzgerald. Between that, hearing his record collection, growing up around the legendary musicians and singers who were like aunts and uncles to me, and just listening to him practice around the house, filling the neighborhood with incredible jazz sax riffs, I couldn't help becoming that weird kid who was listening to Peggy Lee, Ella and Manhattan Transfer when my classmates were listening to rock, country and soul.
Even though he died before I ever sang professionally, he remains my inspiration and all my CDs are dedicated to him. I like to think that he'd like my music, since it's built on the foundation he handed down to me.