|"Been down to Kansas City and everything is all right. Things swing in Kansas City till the early light…"|
As the earth is fertile for the growing of crops, the environment around Kansas City continues to be equally fertile for the fostering of jazz musicians. Although not the perpetual jam session it was in its heyday (the 30s), KC still has that certain something, and once again, the area has produced another individual jazz voice. Born six days before Christmas, in 1929, and five miles from the heart of town (across the viaduct of the Kansas side), Bobby Brookmeyer is a product of the city's musical tradition, its well developed concern for emotion and feeling and the musical language and procedures of today. He received his training at the Kansas City Conservatory where he studied and played trombone, clarinet and piano. The next step was into the army. After his stint was completed, the parade of bands started: Beneke, McKinley, Prima, Thornhill, Jerry Wald and Woody Herman (on piano for the most part).
It was not until 1953 when Bob joined the Stan Getz group on valve trombone that he jazz population became aware of his vast talent. He brought to the jazz scene a highly sensitized perception, the deep masculine sound of his horn, as well as a capacity to be individual in the way he put his feelings into the jazz language. Critical recognition followed swiftly. The words were glowing and many, the impression deep. The most tangible rewards were the admiration of his fellow musicians and the Down Beat critics' "New Star" award for trombone. By this time, he had switched almost full-time to trombone, and has since devoted the greatest portion of his playing and recording time to this instrument. However, his occasional forays at the piano are memorable for the probing intelligence of his solo work (Big City Life and Nature Boy in this album), and the excitement set up by his capacity to comp in an ever so insinuating fashion.
Getting to the core could well be the Brookmeyer credo. As a jazz soloist and writer, Bob wastes littler energy on unnecessary curlicues and affected sounds for the sake of an artificial eloquence. This is a sign post of basic musical honesty. At the same time, Bob is dedicated to emotion and the investigation of every nuance beneath the surface of a selection. The result of this approach is a forceful personalized transmission of the emotional content of the musical material to the listening audience. The Brookmeyer playing style, however, is more than merely indicative of a directness and deftness in interpreting and transmitting emotion; it seems an attempt toward creating a synthesis of tradition and modernity. This musical platform is a most secure one, and enlarges the musician’s scope. In truth, this is the stand of the major jazz musician.
In planning this album, VIK executive Jack Lewis thought it best to record Brookmeyer in three separate contexts in order to showcase him fully, each individual backdrop having its own particular flavor. First, a big band with an interesting instrumentation: four trumpets (Bernie Glow, Joe Ferrante, Al DeRisi and Lou Oles); one valve trombone (Bob Brookmeyer); four saxes (Al Cohn, Ed Wasserman, tenors; Al Epstein and Sol Schlinger, baritones); Osie Johnson, drums; Buddy Jones, bass; Hank Jones, piano. The Tunes – Oh, Jane Snavely, Open Country and Just You, Just Me - were arranged by Brookmeyer and are identified by a functional spareness that proves a provocative framework for the soloist. The construction of the arrangements hint at Basie, but are drawn with a lilting lightness and economy that is Brookmeyer. The solo sections are integral to the music’s appeal and are excitingly handled. The flowing solo statements of Brookmeyer and Al Cohn on Oh, Jane Snavely are most outstanding.
Second, a comparatively standard medium size jazz group: three saxes (Gene Quill, alto; Al Cohn, tenor; and Sol Schlinger, baritone); valve trombone, Brookmeyer; trumpet, Nick Travis; and three rhythm (Milt Hinton, bass; Osie Johnson, drums; Hank Jones, piano). The material: a modern blues - Confusion Blues, an excursion into some Latin jazz; Gone Latin, which has some fine solo moments by Bob, Gene Quill and Al Cohn, over cooking Latin rhythm; finally, a standard tune with interesting chord changes, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart… Again the scores their respects to Basie. I think you will find Al Cohn's arrangement of Zing the most delightful in this grouping, because everything seems to "sit" right. There is a wonderful opening solo by Brookmeyer, and an exciting barrage of four-bar interchanges among the horns that makes this tune even more exciting.
The last session is more serious in nature, for the material and handling of instrumentation tends to make it so. Once again there are eight men: two trumpets (Nick Travis and Bernie Glow); French horn, Joe Singer; tuba, Don Butterfield; trombone and solo piano, Brookmeyer; reeds (Al Cohn, tenor and clarinet; Al Epstein, baritone and English horn); Osie Johnson, drums; and Milt Hinton, bass. The tunes: Big City Life by Bob Brookmeyer, is a nicely developed musing on just that. It features Bob on piano, Al Epstein on English horn and interesting utilization of the instrumentation in creation of sound coloration appropriate to the wistful quality of this piece. Al Cohn’s arrangement of Nature Boy is a study in reflective sadness that plays up the lower portion of the sound spectrum and features Bob on trombone and piano, Al Cohn on clarinet, Joe Singer on French horn, and the depth that is Don Butterfield, on tuba. Finally, in the happier and more obviously jazz-like texture, is Al Cohn's arrangement of I’m Old Fashioned. It is typically rhythmically sound, and Al makes excellent use of the breadth of the lower register instruments for punctuation.
As Jack Lewis said as we were having coffee at the session, "This may not be the most experimental music in the world, but if Brookmeyer imprints his name and personality on it, it has that ever so rare thing – soul."
|Oh, Jane Snavely --- (Bob Brookmeyer)|
|Nature Boy --- (Ahbez/arr. Al Cohn)|
|Just You, Just Me --- (Greer, Klages/arr. Brookmeyer)|
|I'm Old Fashioned --- (Kern, Mercer/arr. Al Cohn)|
|Gone Latin --- (Bob Brookmeyer)|
|Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart --- (Hanley/arr. Cohn)|
|Big City Life --- (Bob Brookmeyer)|
|Confusion Blues --- (Bob Brookmeyer)|
|Open Country --- (Bob Brookmeyer)|
Reeds: Gene Quill, Al Cohn, Ed Wasserman, Al Epstein, Sol Schlinger
Trumpets: Bernie Glow, Joe Ferrante, Al DeRisi, Lou Oles, Nick Travis
Trombone and solo piano: Bob Brookmeyer
French Horn: Joe Singer
Tuba: Don Butterfield
Rhythm: Hank Jones (pno), Buddy Jones, Milt Hinton (bass), Osie Johnson (drums)