The Power of Positive Swinging

This album, "Tonight" and "Gingerbread Men," have been re-released as a two-disc set by Lone Hill Jazz entitled "Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer Quintet: The Complete Studio Recordings"

Ever since critics and other verbalizers began to involve themselves with jazz, categorizations have grown through the music like weeds. And also like weeds, these stylistic labels are often difficult to cut down so that you can experience the music directly. One index of the singular pleasures to be had from the music of the Clark Terry & Bob Brookmeyer Quintet is that it not so much defies categories but rather ignores them. Their invitation to simply make contact with the music itself is so immediate and infectious that only the most rigidified academic would try to sort this combo and the music it plays into some constrictingly neat niche.

“That,” observes Mr. Brookmeyer, himself chronically reluctant to verbalize about music, “is what our music is for—pleasure, not historical diagnosis. We all enjoy each other personally, and perhaps it’s that mutual enjoyment that comes out in the music.” As of August, 1965, Brookmeyer and Terry will have been together four years. They are not together all the time, of course, because their multiple skills often occupy them in other assignments. But their nights as co-leaders of this unit usually add up to about three months a year, with New York’s Half Note their basing point. And in addition, they play other locations and cities from time to time.

Heightening the evident pleasure which Brookmeyer and Terry absorb from this association is their pride in the group. “This,” Brookmeyer notes, “is ours. Clark and I have always worked for other people and whatever renown—or notoriety, if you will—we’ve accumulated as been with other people. After all that time, it’s a continuing enjoyment for us to shape our own band.”

As you can hear on this set, the relaxed cohesion of the co-leaders is buttressed by a similar collective flow of skills in the rhythm section. Dave Bailey and Bill Crow have been with the group for two and a half years and are also colleagues of Brookmeyer in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Pianist Roger Kellaway, the most recent of a series of resourceful pianists with Brookmeyer and Terry, blends into the section with attentive resiliency.

“Roger,” notes Brookmeyer in a rare surge of adjectives, “is one of the most impressive, versatile talents I’ve heard in recent years. He can play any way; and no matter what way it is, it’s clear he’s not jiving. He really is able to become part of a wide range of contexts.”

The initial “Dancing on the Grave” by Brookmeyer has become the combo’s theme song. It is a cheerful kind of “walpurgisnacht,” and Brookmeyer considers it unnecessary to be specific about what the title implies. Each listener is left to his own connotations. The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a particular favorite at the Half Note, especially for Frank Canterino, the chef-in-chief of the establishment. “We refer to the song,” says Brookmeyer, “as getting Frank out of the kitchen.” In this head arrangement, incidentally, the musicians sound as if the battle has already been won and all that’s left to do is to celebrate.

“The Kind,” a number written by Count Basie, is a distillation of the verb “to swing” –both in its original manifestation and in this version. “Ode to a Fluegelhorn” points up Clark Terry’s brisk mastery of this instrument which seems particularly attuned to his qualities of wit, lithe grace and concern for textural values.

Brookmeyer arranged the vintage “Gal in Calico” having been attracted to the song because it allowed the combo to explore yet another nuance of mood. “Green Stamps,” by Brookmeyer, is an ebullient event, marked by a series of exchanges between the co-leaders which turns into a circle of wit. “Hawg Jawz” is Clark Terry’s and it particularly reflects Clark’s antic humor. It also is an illustration—by Terry and Brookmeyer—of the art of breakmanship. Their dialogue of breaks here is consistently fresh, pointed, and relevant.

“Simple Waltz” is by Clark and in this song too, there are quick-witted ripostes by the two leaders as well as solos by them that reveal their easy—and unerring—sense of swing. The final “Just An Old Manuscript,” a Don Redman/Andy Razaf collaboration, is a model of how a combo can achieve a wholly relaxed, organic unity.

In recalling the nearly four years of his association with Terry, Brookmeyer observes that “It was a pleasure from the very beginning, from the first rehearsal-talk over in my apartment.” “And yet,” Brookmeyer adds, “we’re very disparate personalities.”

It is true that at the Half Note, the staff refers to Terry and Brookmeyer as “Mumbles and Grumbles.” “Mumbles is the title of a widely popular Terry recording, and “Grumbles” alludes to Brookmeyer’s occasionally sardonic view of the world and the foibles of its inhabitants, including his own. Yet I wonder if at base, the two are actually that disparate. Both are the antithesis of pretentiousness off as well as on the stand. Both have never regarded jazz as so “serious” that it cannot also be unabashed fun. And both are very much themselves. Beneath Terry’s gentleness and open good will and beneath Brookmeyer’s wry (and sometimes self-deprecating) wit is an insistence on going their own ways. Each has resisted being compressed into any one “bag” and accordingly, the two together are—to use a favorite Duke Ellington commendation—beyond category.

What does, then, link their personalities is independence. And it is an independence secure enough in itself to be flexible. They are flexible in terms of music and flexible with regard to their ability to respond fully to each other and to the rest of the musicians in the combo so that this unit is an egalitarian meeting of compatible spirits. It gives pleasure because it takes pleasure in itself.

Clark Terry distills the essence of the Terry/Brookmeyer fusion: “It seemed to me there’s too much put-down music, put-on music, hurray-for-me music and the-hell-with-everybody-music. So we thought we’d have some compatible music.”

Nat Hentoff
Dancing on the GraveListen!
Battle Hymn of the Republic
The King
Ode to a Fluegelhorn
Gal in Calico
Green StampsListen!
Hawg Jawz
Simple Waltz
Just An Old Manuscript

Clark Terry, trumpet and fluegelhorn
Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombone
Roger Kellaway, piano
Bill Crow, bass
Dave Bailey, drums