Speaking of “Summertime”…
The Tune: “Samba With Some Barbecue”
Recorded: 20 November, 1968 at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Personnel: (deep breath…)
- Paul Desmond- Alto Sax
- Paul Faulise, Bill Watrous, and Kai Winding- Trombone
- John Eckert, Joe Shepley, and Marvin Stamm- Trumpet/Flugelhorn
- Ray Alonge and Tony Miranda- French Horn
- Joe Beck- Guitar
- Herbie Hancock- Piano
- Ron Carter- Bass
- Airto Moreira- Drums
The Tune: “Summertime”
Recorded: 10 October, 1968 at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
- Paul Desmond- Alto Sax
- Paul Faulise, Urbie Green, J.J. Johnson, Bill Watrous, and Kai Winding- Trombone
- Burt Collins, Joe Shepley, and Marvin Stamm- Trumpet and Fluglehorn
- Ray Alonge and Jimmy Buffington- French Horn
- Ron Carter- Bass
- Herbie Hancock- Piano
- Leo Morris- Drums
In 1955, the Dave Brubeck released an album called ‘Jazz Red Hot and Cool’, featuring Paul Desmond’s saxophone. 14 years later, Paul Desmond released an album that was both red hot and cool, in more ways than one.
Recorded a year after the Dave Brubeck Quartet broke up, this album represented Desmond’s first appearance on record since 1967. Despite the large orchestral arrangements (by Don Sebesky), this album is Desmond’s and his imprint is everywhere. The first sign of Desmond is the music. Everything from the song choices to the song styles reveals Desmond’s fingerprints. The opening tune is case en point. A light bossa nova rhythm gets things started on a jaunty, happy footing. By the time Desmond’s equally jaunty and happy alto sax sails in, we aren’t even listening to the melody so much as listening to the entire band as a whole. But then, the melody starts to sound familiar; the title gives it away. Paul Desmond took Louis Armstrong’s (or was it Lil Hardin’s, Armstrong’s wife?) old tune “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”, which was written in 1927, and took it from New Orleans to Rio. “Samba With Some Barbecue” is a great example of updating a tune as well as an example of a tune proving its durability. So well does “Struttin'” work in the Brazilian context that it seems like it was written with the bossa nova in mind. Desmond’s sax, which also seems to have been created for the bossa nova, weaves a lyrical and succinct solo, at times punctuated and cushioned by the horns of Sebesky’s arrangement. On piano is the great Herbie Hancock, who uses Desmond’s closing phrase as a springboard for his own opening statements. His solo is full of tasty chords and ideas, all while that guitar gently strums. Worthy of mention is Ron Carter’s (!!!) excellent bass work and drummer Airto Moreira’s refreshing drumming. It’s a welcome departure from the basic and abundant bossa nova drumming from Americans. All in all a delicious performance. To better appreciate Desmond’s “Samba”, here’s Armstrong’s original 1927 performance of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” with his Hot Five.
“Summertime” is in a completely different vein yet bears Desmond’s mark. Done in a fleet 5/4 time signature, this “Summertime” is a rather “Take Five”-ish outing. Desmond of course is quite at home in this setting and once again taking an old tune and turning it into something fresh and exciting. Like on “Samba With Some Barbecue”, Sebesky’s arrangement uses the horns as a tool to prod and color the music. Post Desmond’s solo, Herbie Hancock once again steps in for modernistic take on the tune. After hearing Desmond backed by Brubeck’s piano for almost 20 years, it’s a revelation to hear a new pianist comping behind Desmond, especially someone like Hancock. It’s another rare example of a “Summertime” that I find attractive and individualistic.
The rest of the album is filled with music that falls on the lighter side of jazz but is nevertheless good jazz. Being a Desmond album, there are plenty of slower ballads that fall on the right side of romantic. There are also a few more Latin-tinged tunes, from a relaxed bossa nova treatment of “Autumn Leaves” (which, this being Fall, would’ve also been an appropriate choice) to a brief reading of the Beatles song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as a West Indian (Jamaican?)-hued song. Showing that Brubeck’s flirtations with time signatures wasn’t completely a Brubeckian rule, there’s a waltz and even a tune that casually floats around in 7/4. This album is definitely a Paul Desmond album.
In more ways than one.
From the cover to the song choices, this album is yet another testament to the more comical side of Paul Desmond. Besides “Samba With Some Barbecue”, there’s the Beatles tune that Desmond chose because of the lyric “Desmond had a barrow in the marketplace.” Hardy har har. The inclusion of “Autumn Leaves” on an album entitled ‘Summertime’ was not an accident. “North By Northeast” is yet another version of “Audrey”, Desmond’s original blues where it starts as a minor blues and then moves into the major key. It ends with Desmond’s plaintive phrase first heard on “Balcony Rock” from the 1954 ‘Jazz Goes To College’, made less plaintive by Sebesky’s rather upbeat arrangement for the horn. The liner notes state that the title “North By Northeast” has no meaning whatsoever, but knowing Desmond, there’s probably a meaning hidden in there somewhere.
Reviewing the album in 1969 for Downbeat Magazine, Dan Morgenstern gave it four stars and had this to say:
“Varied and often interesting material, a recording quality that beautifully captures and projects the altoist’s sound, and the sympathetic backing he receives-from Hancock, Carter and Beck in particular- help carry the album, but it is Desmond’s consistent excellence that holds it up.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Now about that album cover…
I’m here for the ironic cover. Because why wouldn’t you stick some icicles on an album named ‘Summertime’? Thank you for that, Desmond. Red hot summer, cool as winter. The clean white border around the picture makes for a clean, minimalist cover. Well done.
Informative liner notes and detailed information about the recordings- what more could you want? Well, almost informative. Writer Eugene Boe makes a slight mistake. He claims that Louis Armstrong wrote “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” back in 1941. False. It was written way back in 1927!
This album pressing is a later edition from the 1970’s, as evidenced by the vinyl labels. The original pressings from the late 1960’s would’ve sported A&M’s classic brown labels. It’s in stereo, with a well-defined sound stage. It’s a great-sounding recording, although the varying qualities in that sound are indicative of the numerous recording sessions that went into the album. For instance, “Samba With Some Barbecue” sounds different “Summertime”, and not just because of the different personnel.
The Place of Acquisition
I found the record at my good old local record store. I’ve always jammed to “Samba With Some Barbecue”, so to find the album itself was exciting. The local record store never fails to surprise me.