February 7, 2010

Jazz Giants ‘58

Jazz Giants '58This is not your run-of-the-mill jam. Blowing sessions like this were fairly common in the 1950s – a group of prominent jazz players were chosen, often ones who had never played together before, thrown into a studio for a day or two, and the tapes rolled. Sometimes you got good but unimaginative music, and other times you got magic. This album falls into the latter category.
     Jazz Giants ’58 was put together by Norman Granz at Verve, and he got a stellar cast: Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Harry “Sweets” Edison, the Oscar Peterson Trio, and Louis Bellson. It’s a little bit of old school – Edison (who played with Basie) and Bellson (who played with Ellington) – and a little of the new – Getz and Mulligan. Recorded in August 1957, it comes near a cusp in jazz history, with free jazz forms appearing on the horizon. But unlike the conventional evolutionary timelines in jazz – swing giving way to bop giving way to free jazz – this album shows that the breaks are not so clean and that swing and bop greats can make some wonderful jazz together.
     Nominally a Stan Getz led album, in Jazz Giants ’58 everyone gets a star turn. The music clearly benefits from the presence of Mulligan, who did the arrangements and provides a little structure to the proceedings. The first tune, “Chocolate Sundae,” is a perfect example. It begins with a Ray Brown bass solo, followed by Mulligan on baritone, and a swinging Herb Ellis guitar solo. Then a sweet Oscar Peterson piano riff introduces Getz’s solo, who doesn’t appear until five and a half minutes into the song. The rhythm section really kicks in behind Getz and the song starts swinging hard. But then “Sweets” comes in for an extended solo and steals the show. One can hear the Basie influence in his playing, in the ability to sound just the right note and give it so much meaning and feel. It was Lester Young that gave Edison his nickname for just this quality.
“As far as playing jazz, no other art form, other than conversation, can give the satisfaction of spontaneous interaction.” 
     Other selections on the album include “When Your Lover Has Gone,” “Candy” (with a classic Mulligan solo on baritone full of swing and longing), a medley of ballads (“Lush Life,” “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “Makin’ Whoopee,” and “It Never Entered My Mind”), and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n’ You” (taken at a very brisk clip). Stan Getz once said, “As far as playing jazz, no other art form, other than conversation, can give the satisfaction of spontaneous interaction.” The conversation on this session was clearly a warm one among equals. Far from a jam, this is jazz of the highest order.

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