Hip Soul // Shirley Scott (Prestige PRLP 7205)

Rolling right along in my celebration of Black History Month, here’s an album featuring a rare type of jazz artist- a female who strictly plays and doesn’t sing. Of course, there’s also a bit of intrigue behind the album as well. To the music!


The Music

The Tune: “Hip Soul”
Recorded: 2 June, 1961 at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Personnel:

  • Shirley Scott- Organ
  • Stan Turner- Tenor Sax
  • Herb Lewis- Bass
  • Roy Brooks- Drums

1961:

  • White and black civilians decide to test take a Greyhound from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana to test the integration laws. Known as Freedom Riders, they are violently beat and nearly killed when racists bomb their bus and attack them with weapons numerous times throughout Alabama.
  • Herbert Lee, a black farmer and founding member of a Mississippi NAACP chapter who was working to get fellow blacks registered to vote, is murdered in broad daylight by his friend and neighbor E.H. Hurst, a State Assemblyman. Despite numerous witnesses, Hurst claims he was attacked by Lee and shot him in self-defense. The white judge lets him off without seeing a day in jail.
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Originally a piano player, Shirley Scott made the transition to the organ in the 1950’s and was a member of Eddie Lockjaw Davis’ jazz combo in the late 50’s. What she did not do was sing. At least, not on records. She was purely a swinging keyboardist. There aren’t too many examples of women in jazz who were only instrumentalists. Two well-known examples that immediately come to mind are Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland, both keyboardists as well.

Shirley Scott’s organ style was clean and sparse, perhaps a result of her being a pianist first. This less-is-more style of organ playing is unique and refreshing, and is the reason why I got hip to her in the first place. The organ is an easy instrument to overplay, yet Scott allowed the organ to breathe. Despite using a bass player on many of her albums, she was capable of creating some downright nasty bass lines on her own.

The title track of the album, “Hip Soul”, is a great example of her pared-back, laid-back style of organ. An easy-going blues written by Ms. Scott, the sax player solos first, followed by Scott’s hip and soulful statements. With a few passing glances at Art Blakey’s “Blues March”, the tune unfolds into a strutting number. The sax player has plenty of soul in his horn, and he has plenty to say.

Who is the sax player, anyhow? A newcomer named Stan Turner. Who is Stan Turner? Why, it’s Stanley Turrentine, of course! Recording away from his home label of Blue Note, Turrentine had to adopt the alias to avoid the contract violations. What would make him go through all of that trouble? Maybe it was love? No, seriously. It was probably love. Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine were married, after all. During the 1960’s, they made some of the best jazz a married couple had ever made since the days of Louis and Lil Armstrong and Ray Brown and Ella Fitzgerald.

I’m not familiar with the other guys on the album, but Roy Brooks’ drumming does the job and Herb Lewis’ bass is full and rock solid. You don’t often hear a string bass playing in a group with jazz organ, or any organ for that matter.

The rest of the album flows in much the same vein, with head-bobbing tempos, soulful solos, and solid music flowing from the grooves of the album. It’s a shame that Shirley Scott isn’t more widely known and discussed. She had plenty to contribute and add to the jazz organ society. Reviewing the album on Allmusic, Stewart Mason had this to say about Ms. Scott’s work:

“An underappreciated master of the Hammond organ, Scott is one of the few players of her generation who declined to simply ape Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, or Jack McDuff (although she does cop to a clear Smith influence on the funky walking groove of the title track) in favor of creating her own distinctive sound.”

Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine went on to make numerous albums as a team, both on Prestige, Blue Note, and later on Impulse. On all of them, Scott is swinging and purposeful. Amen and amen.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: C

While it’s certainly one of the better album covers of her that Prestige put out, it’s certainly not a great one. It looks like a standard family portrait of Aunt Shirley that can be found in homes across the country, not a jazz musician on the cover of an album. What’s going on with her hands? What’s she looking at? The dramatic lighting and the angle is good, but the ball was dropped. And what’s with the sepia filter? Black and white would’ve been just fine. Naturally, the print is in pink though. Naturally. Yikes.

The Back

I’m not familiar with Joe Goldberg, but his liner notes are decent enough. They’re informative, interesting, and fair. Goldberg talks about the music on the actual album as well as various facts about Scott and “Stan Turner” (informative). There’s the inclusion of Prestige president Bob Weinstock’s opinion that his label recorded what history will acknowledge as the classic tenor sax/organ jazz album (interesting), and he readily admits that he doesn’t know what a hip soul is (fair).

Something interesting about the back is that, peeking from just over the top, is the word ‘stereo’. It looks like Prestige, in a money-saving move, printed one edition of the album covers, with stereo being put up at the top of all of them. If the album was mono, the cover was positioned so that the ‘stereo’ label was covered by the liner notes paper. Clever.

The Vinyl

I like the classic yellow and black Prestige labels. They’re intricate and visually exciting with their golden yellow and black colors. Released in late 1961, this record caught the last of the deep groove stampers. Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in mono, his initials are stamped into the deadwax on both sides. The mono is lively and full. Listening to the stereo version on Spotify, the mono version is the version to look for. RVG was still figuring out how to use stereo in 1961, and the stereo version sounds like the drums are all the way against the right wall of the studio while Turrentine’s sax is all the way against the other side of the studio wall. It’s a jarring listen. My copy was well-loved in another life, as that bane of record collectors known as groove wear is present on just about every track. It’s not too bad though, and the music itself is groovy enough to make it worth the listen.

The Place of Acquisition

I found this album a couple of years ago on a trip to my local record store here in Huntsville, Alabama. It’s always a great day when you find an original Prestige pressing, and even better day when that original Prestige pressing is under $20.

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