For the past few posts, I’ve been using the sub-genres of jazz to explore and rediscover my record collection. We looked at ‘arranger jazz’, and then moved to live jazz, specifically ‘jazz club jazz’. In the last post, we stepped into the Village Vanguard, a New York City jazz club. Before leaving the state, we’re heading down the street and around the corner to another legendary jazz spot in Greenwich Village.The Music
The Tune: “Soft Winds”
Recorded: 23 November, 1955 at the Cafe Bohemia, New York City
- Hank Mobley- Tenor Sax
- Kenny Dorham- Trumpet
- Horace Silver- Piano
- Doug Watkins- Bass
- Art Blakey- Drums
Like the Village Vanguard, the Cafe Bohemia didn’t start off as a jazz club. It opened in 1949 by Jimmy Garofolo as a restaurant, and after exploring different areas, began offering live jazz in 1955. Almost immediately, many of the big names in modern jazz appeared there, from Miles Davis and his first quintet, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, and Art Blakey. Nearly as many artists had albums recorded there, and one of the first groups to have an album made there was Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
This album featured the original lineup of the Jazz Messengers, with the then-new Hank Mobley and Doug Watkins on sax and bass respectfully. Rudy Van Gelder’s inclusion of Art Blakey’s spoken introductions add to the liveness of the club’s atmosphere. After informing the audience that there’s a cooking session taking place on the stage (“putting the pot on”), he proceeds to name the guys in the group. That in itself is pretty neat to hear. After that’s done, they slip into simmering rendition of the old Benny Goodman blues “Soft Winds”. Hank Mobley’s smooth, buttery tenor sax starts the solos off. He’s not the Mobley circa ‘Soul Station’, but then again, any Mobley is good Mobley. His double-timing spurs Blakey to kick the tempo into double-time as well, setting a format for the rest of the soloists that follow him.
Kenny Dorham, or as Blakey calls him, Kenny Door-ham, plays next. Kenny always seemed to be a bit underappreciated, even during his lifetime. He wasn’t controversial like Chet Baker or Miles Davis and didn’t razzle dazzle like Clifford Brown or Lee Morgan; he was just a solid, dependable player.
Horace Silver’s solo starts off with a phrase that’s so soulful and swinging you can hear the audience’s heads bobbing. Classic Silver. The rest of his solo follows in a similar vein before concluding with some tasty chords and yielding it back the horn players for a restatement of the melody. Art Blakey’s drumming is rock-solid, adding accents here and there to push the fellas on. Doug Watkins’ (the guy Blakey directed his “before some of us got into the world” comment) bass playing is solid as well.
Throughout the performance, the audience participation is respectful but palpable, with appreciative claps and words as each soloist finishes their piece. They were witnessing one of the great small groups that came up during the mid-1950’s, and witnessing it in the best place to hear jazz: the nightclub.
College Jazz Collector Rating: A
This is one of those iconic Blue Note album covers. It’s plain and simple, yet extremely successful. The large red lettering against a plain white background is eye catching on its own, while the always-fantastic black and white photography of Francis Wolff adds another layer of intrigue and hipness to the album art. Those action poses catch everyone in the midst of creating music. Whether those poses are flattering or not is up for debate. Just ask Mr. Silver…
It’s obviously seen better days since it was first released 60-plus years ago in 1956, as the worn corners show. The white paper of the back is still remarkably white. The liner notes were written by the esteemed Leonard Feather, one of those guys whose presence on an album jacket almost guarantees good music is on the record inside. The liners explain how Cafe Bohemia came to be, along with a description of what the place looks like. Mr. Feather then describes both volumes of ‘At Cafe Bohemia’, saving paper and ink. Blue Note Records: Preserving not only great music, but the environment as well. But then again, what would you expect from Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff?
Look out world. This is an original Blue Note record. Pressed on heavy, thick, severely deep-groove vinyl, this (which looks like may have gotten smudged somehow) is the old cursive ‘767 Lexington Ave’ label used in the early to mid-1950’s. Rudy’s initials are scrawled into the runnout wax, as well as the Plastylite ‘ear’. Just looking at it makes me extremely happy. I’m not a big-league record collector (yet…), but I’m starting to see why Blue Note records are so sought after. Besides sounding nice, they’re absolutely thrilling to gaze at. Like, who knew a record be…sexy?
Speaking of the sound, this record sounds pretty good, recorded in glorious mono. Sure, it’s got some crackle. I’ll concede that it’s cursed with groove wear (particularly noticeable with Kenny’s trumpet). I’ll even admit that it’s got a few scratches on the second side that cause it to jump and skip like an Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day. BUT, it still has that wonderful Van Gelder sound, and the music is just as good. I’m as happy as… well, an Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day!
The Place of Acquisition
I’m sure regular readers of my blog are sick and tired of my constant desire to make a commercial for the local record store here in town. But I really could make a commercial for this place. Finding a physical, brick-and-mortar record store that has a healthy supply of jazz records is one thing. Finding such a record store that sells BLUE NOTE RECORDS?! Now that’s as abundant as four-leaf clovers. The record store here in northern Alabama is a veritable field of four-leaf clovers. w
Walking in the store a few days after 2018 began, I was greeted by the always friendly store owner, who alerted me to ‘some’ new jazz arrivals. That was ‘some’ understatement. There were crates. Combing through the treasure, I managed to find not one, not three, but four (4, quatro) Blue Note albums. After picking myself off the floor, I checked the record labels. 767 Lexingtons? 47 West 63rd?! As the ambulance arrived to take me away, I managed to check the records for deep-groove. Present and accounted for. On both sides. As the doctors and nurses rushed to start CPR and IV medications, I mustered the remaining strength that I had to check the price of this ‘Cafe Bohemia’ record. $12. I would’ve shouted for joy, but the oxygen mask prevented me from doing so.