Webster's dictionary defines the word "soul" as someone having a strong and positive feeling and having an intense sensitivity and emotional fervor. It also says that soul is characterized by an intensity of feeling and earthiness. It defines the word "funky" similarly as someone having an earthy unsophisticated style and feeling. To me they would be wise to simply put the picture of Stanley Turrentine next to both of these words and a note to just listen to this man play tenor saxophone to understand the definitions.
I first met Stanley in New York City at a rehearsal for a recording I was doing five years ago with a cooperative group I play in called Three of a Kind. Bruce Cox is the superb drummer of the group (played with Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard etc.) and the great Dwayne Dolphin plays bass (Wynton Marsalis, Geri Allen, Arthur Blythe etc.). (I play piano by the way for those of you that don't know me). We wanted to have a special guest on our second album for a German Record Label called Minor Music and Dwayne suggested Stanley Turrentine as they both hail from Pittsburgh. At the beginning of the first rehearsal Stanley was a little standoffish playing the big star routine, but after the first tune he realized that we were a happening trio and he changed his attitude and really started to play. At the end of the rehearsal he asked me for my phone number and wanted to know if I would play with his group sometime after the recording.
The recording called 'Three of a Kind Meets Mr. T' turned out great. We recorded mostly swinging standards and a few originals. I was very excited that he also wanted to record a couple of my compositions. Mr. T was unbelievably soulful and funky and man did he swing. He has a sound that goes right through you and touches you somewhere deep inside. As Dwayne said to me "you can just hear the old chains of my people in his playing". I was surprised to find out though that he wasn't a great sight-reader. But it didn't matter because he learned everything quickly by ear. After the recording I was completely elated and thought what a lucky guy I truly am and assumed that I would never hear from Stanley again.
I found out that I was wrong when he started calling me to do some gigs with him. I was totally thrilled to play his classic jazz standard 'Sugar' with him every night. I had played the tune many times before but it never sounded so amazingly soulful as the way he can play it. He really owns that tune. He also loved playing pieces like Marvin Gayes' "Don't Mess With Mr. T", and Freddie Hubbard's "Gibraltar" as well as Michel LeGrand's "Pieces of a Dream". We also played compositions by his trumpet-playing brother Tommy Turrentine like "June Bug" and "Thomasville". A highlight for me was playing a week at the Blue Note in New York with him. One night the great George Benson (also from Pittsburgh) came by and sat in. Talk about a soulful swinging mother... (There must be something in the water in Pittsburgh, Art Blakey is from there, Ahmad Jamal, Earl "Fatha" Hines and countless of other incredible musicians). Since that time I recorded with Mr. T one more time and last year went with him and the singer/composer Oscar Brown Jr. to perform in Europe.
For those of you that want to check out some of Stanley Turrentine's great recordings check out his early stuff on Blue Note like Blue Hour with the Three Sounds or the incredible Up at Minton's (a must) or his CTI recordings like the classic Sugar or The Sugar Man. He also made some great recordings with Max Roach in the fifties as well as with Ray Charles. If you like soulful organ music check out the classic Blue Note albums he did with Jimmy Smith like Midnight Special and Back at the Chicken Shack or the ones he did with his x-wife Shirley Scott such as Never Let Me Go and Hustlin'. At 65, Mr. T is one of the true jazz masters we still have left, go out and see him when you get a chance. You'll be sure to be touched by his soulful funky sounds.
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