In the jazz record collecting circle, there are records that everyone wants, there are records that are rare, and there’s records that are expensive. Then there’s holy grails. Ask a record collector what a grail is, and they’ll probably rattle off a few Blue Note albums, like Lee Morgan’s ‘Vol. 3’ (which I accidentally grabbed without even knowing it was a grail) or Hank Mobley’s self-titled album, catalog number 1568. Ask those same collectors what their definition of a grail is, and you’ll get a plethora of answers, none of them the same. I asked a few friends of mine that are also heavy jazz record collectors what their definition of a grail was, and here are some of their responses:
- “Less than one known copy”
- “Grails are sh*t that is 1.) In demand 2.) Hard to find 3.) Gonna break your bank”
- “…I guess I don’t consider anything a grail…there are things that are damn hard to find but totally achievable with time, sweat or money”
And then it got nuanced and philosophical:
- “There’s a lot of titles that are challenging to find but that wouldn’t be considered a grail in the jazz community. It’s a combination of factors… Hard to determine the fine nuances of each”
- “Just another challenge or goal I suppose”
I then asked if there was such thing as a personal grail, to which I got a thought-provoking answer:
- “I think a “personal grail” can be anything that is very important to you AND hard to find and/or rare. I think a general grail is an album that is a special combination of rarity and demand (which usually means very valuable). In that sense, a (general) grail is one of the most valued records.”
As well as this:
- “Tarik tryin’ to turn Brubecks into grails”
All of these responses (except for the last one) are great responses, with none of them being wrong (except for the last one). Personal grails can be all of these and more. After all, personal value and demand are just as important, if not more so, than whatever arbitrary value others have assigned to a given album, pressing, etc. This lengthy preamble was just my way of setting the stage for this album and my feelings towards it. Sooooo, to the music!
The Tune: “Dearly Beloved”
Recorded: 8 June, 1961 at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
- Stanley Turrentine – Tenor Sax
- Little Miss Cott – Organ
- Roy Brooks – Drums
This is a personal grail, special and valuable to me for many reasons. The main reason why this album looms large in my collection is because it was my introduction to Shirley Scott, my favorite organ player this side of the church. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the autumn of 2012, my freshman year of college. I was listening to Pandora while studying in my dorm room when “Dearly Beloved” came on. I immediately recognized Stanley Turrentine’s tenor sax, and I’d been a fan of the song “Dearly Beloved” ever since I heard Cal Tjader do it, so I paused to listen. The way the organ pedaled on the intro while playing simple accompaniment to Turrentine’s lithe sax was tasty, and the release to the rest of the melody statement was intriguing. The upbeat tempo was a fresh touch, as I’d usually heard the song done as a ballad. Up to this point, I had been tapping my foot while starring out the window of the room, enjoying the music but not really paying attention.
Then there was a pause as the band stopped and Turrentine started his solo during the silence. Now, his starting phrase was nasty by itself, but it’s what the organ did that made me throw my pen across the room and yell. Where Turrentine climbed up the musical scale to start his solo, the organ mirrored him on the bass by walking a mean bass line down the scale. Then, to add even more taste, there was a moment of absolutely no accompaniment. Just the drums, the bass line, and the sax. Nasty. At this point, my face looked like this:
When the organ finally did come in with some backup, it was just in the form of some light, cool chords here and there. I was floored. It was the complete antithesis of what a jazz organist did. Where most jazz organists would be all over the place, this one was allowing the music to breathe, to flow.
Studying no longer possible, I leaned forward and really dug the music. Turrentine’s solo was one of the best, most logical and economical solos I’d heard him do at that point in my life. His quote of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” even made sense in a non-corny way. After his solo, I again expected the organist to go nuts, but again I was wrong. The organ solo was full of restraint, space, and a sense of swing so fierce that my foot almost wore a hole in the floor. About the time that the organ began playing some very “Milestones”-ish chordal patterns, it hit me- the organist was playing the organ like a piano. My face was now looking like this:
Needless to say, after the track was done, I quickly Googled the album to see who the organ player was. I was surprised to learn that not only was it a woman named Shirley Scott, but that it was the future wife of Stanley Turrentine. Wild. From that moment on, I became a Shirley Scott fan. She didn’t become my favorite jazz organist then (it was Larry Young- more on that in a later post), but after years of listening and growing appreciation, I can say that she is my candidate for both most underrated jazz musician and one of the best jazz organists of all time.
One thing I really like about her is her bass lines. For those that don’t know, jazz organ players often create their own bass lines instead of using an actual bass player. They do this by using the foot pedals on the organ or playing the bass line in their left hand. That already takes a lot of dexterity and skill, but Ms. Scott’s bass lines were musical and tasty where most other organ player’s lines were simply functional and practical. The fact that I was paying attention to an organ’s bass lines at all was an accomplishment on its own.
The rest of the album cooks. From the opening Latin cut “Baia” to the closing Latin-tinged cut “Nothing Ever Changes My Love For you”, there’s plenty of head-bobbing heat in these grooves to go around. Drummer Roy Brooks does a fantastic job of keeping things moving and exciting without over playing. Then again, he was also drumming for Horace Silver at the time, so this makes sense. Over at Allmusic, reviewer and critic Steve Leggett gave the album four stars, writing that this was one of Turrentine’s finest moments on Blue Note. I couldn’t agree more. In a genre that is more than saturated with so-so to downright bad sax/organ combo albums, this album is a gem. Significantly, this was Turrentine’s first album with organ as a leader with Blue Note. I may get flack for this, but I think it’s his strongest.
Fun fact: In order to avoid contractual consequences, Shirley Scott appeared on this album as “Little Miss Cott” due to the fact that she was signed to Prestige Records.
Funner fact: Six days earlier, Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine (along with the same drummer, Roy Brooks) recorded an album for Prestige, entitled ‘Hip Soul’ (which I wrote about here).
Funnest fact: In order to avoid contractual consequences, Stanley Turrentine appeared on that album as “Stan Turner”, since he was signed to, you know, Blue Note.
Raggy Waltz Rating: C-
Even the greats have their off-days, and this album represents an off-day for Blue Note’s Francis Wolff. Wolff often photographed the musicians in the dark recesses of the recording studio, in black and white photography with plenty of shadows. I guess on this day, Wolff decided that Turrentine needed some sun and happiness, so outside they went and, with Turrentine admiring some flowers, snapped a picture. It’s not a flattering picture of Mr. Turrentine. At the time of this album’s release in early 1962, he was just 27. The album cover photograph makes him look like a middle-aged man on the other side of the middle.
And what’s he doing with those flowers, anyhow? I always thought it was Turrentine, fresh from the recording session, wondering if he should talk to Ms. Shirley Scott and ask her out. “She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not…” The only thing saving this album cover from a D grade is the fact that Turrentine is on the cover. In the 1950’s and 60’s, it was always a win for black people to be positively depicted on record covers, especially their own album covers.
Ira Gitler, Prestige’s Ralph Gleason, is moonlighting for Blue Note here and contributes some solid liner notes. He makes a glancing reference to the fact that Little Miss Cott is an alias before going about his business. I like what he says about the title tune “Dearly Beloved”: “Everyone smokes here as Brooks comes in for a round of “fours” after the principals solo.”
Pressed on thick vinyl without a deep groove and with those crisp blue and white classic labels, this is a nice original copy, in mono. Rudy Van Gelder recorded and engineered the music, and his initials are in the deadwax, albeit stamped in all caps. There’s a Plastylite ‘ear’ as well. Yahoo.
Recorded in glorious mono by RVG, the music crackles with life. It also just crackles, but that’s what vinyl tends to do, especially if it’s over fifty years old like this record. I personally don’t mind a little crackle. Like Paul Desmond once said, the music could be recorded on cellophane wrap as long as I can hear what the musicians were up to.
Also, if there’s anyone else out there who smells their records, I have to say that this record and the inside of the record sleeve smells wonderful. Judge me.
The Place of Acquisition
This is one of the albums I bought at Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe in Orlando, Flordia back in July. I found it while digging in the shelves, and was excited to have found it in the wild. So excited was I that I completely missed the little green sticker on the plastic sleeve that screamed “RARE Stereo First Press!”. Probably because of the other sticker that was perched just above it- the price tag.