February 27, 2010


Fantastic Frank StrozierAlto saxophonist Frank Strozier is not very well known, but he should be. Born in 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, he was an intense hard bopper who never broke through to wide recognition. In the early 1960s, he recorded as a sideman with MJT + 3, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Roy Haynes, among others. His first recording date as a leader produced The Fantastic Frank Strozier (Vee Jay,1960). On the cover of this album, he looks like a junior high schooler, but the lineup he’s working with is definitely graduate level: Miles Davis’s rhythm section (Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb) along with Booker Little on trumpet. The results are remarkable. Little crisply articulates his solos, crafting intricate sentences on trumpet. Strozier contributes intense solos of his own with his signature biting tone, riding the edge of notes like a slalom skier on a steep downhill. Listen to "I Don't Know" from this album for a perfect example. None of the Johnny Hodges rounded, warm tone for Strozier - his playing is more restless and searching.
     He made a couple more albums (Waltz of the Demons and Cloudy and Cool) in 1960 – his banner year – but discovery never happened. Booker Little, who clearly was a rising star, died of liver failure the following year; he was 23 years old. Strozier moved to Los Angeles and got some work as a sideman (many of these recordings are out of print). He returned to New York in the early 1970s, but gigs were so scarce that he spent time teaching science in the public schools. The teachers' lounge must have been a swinging place; either that or this was a talented musician experiencing some soul-crushing tedium in the wilderness. Strozier attempted a comeback on piano and he made a couple of albums for Steeplechase in the mid-70s and then disappeared. This is regrettable because his stylish hard bop and edgy tone deserve to be heard more widely.

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