Shirley’s Sounds // Shirley Scott (Prestige PRLP 7195)

It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month (at least here in the United States), a time where we spend 28 (29 this year!!!) days to think about the life and times of black Americans. Here at Raggy Waltz, we use the month of February to highlight albums by black men and women as well as briefly reflect on what events were happening at the time of the album’s recording. To kick things off, it’s only right that we put the spotlight on not just a black American, but a black American WOMAN. Ms. Scott also happens to be my favorite jazz organist, as regular readers know. To 1961 we go!


The Music

The Tune: “It Could Happen To You”

Recorded: 23 May, 1958 at Van Gelder Studios, Hackensack, NJ

Personnel:

  • Shirley Scott – Organ
  • George Duvivier – Bass
  • Arthur Edgehill – Drums

The Tune: “Bye Bye Blackbird”

Recorded: 8 April, 1960 at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Personnel:

  • Shirley Scott – Organ
  • George Tucker – Bass
  • Arthur Edgehill – Drums

1958:

  • In order to save face after unsuccessfully barring nine black students from integrating Central High School, Arkansas governor Orville Faubus closes all high schools in Little Rock to prevent school integration. There is no public school at all during the 1958-59 school year.

1960:

  • In February, four black college students sit at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in North Carolina and are refused service. Instead of leaving, they stage a sit-in. Their actions spark similar sit-ins in college towns across the country, forcing Woolworth’s and other establishments to change their racial policies.

Recorded in 1958 and 1960 and then released in 1961, this album was made as the Civil Rights Movement was just starting to heat up. The music on this album smolders along in classic Ms. Scott fashion. Featuring her in a trio format, she has plenty of space to stretch out and flourish in an uncluttered setting. And flourish she does. Playing the organ like a piano, she builds her solos from spare and streamlined lines to cascading and full-bodied chords that somehow seem to still sound lithe and nimble.

Take “It Could Happen To You”, the first track on the album (and the first track spotlighted above). She sneaks in with a swelling chord, then proceeds to play the melody with rich two-handed chords. She then makes her case by gliding effortlessly but soulfully over the organ keys, sticking to clean lines that are occasionally punctuated and highlighted with harmonized accompaniment. Building back to her tasty two-fisted chords, she has a ball making her organ breathe and swell in a way that makes you forget she’s playing an electric instrument. Then, instead of taking more choruses, she cools it back down for the outro. All in all, a tasty opener to a tasty album of jazz organ.

I included “Bye Bye Blackbird” not only because it’s quite possibly my favorite track on the entire album but because it’s quite possibly my favorite rendition of this tune of all time. It starts off in a jaunty mood, Scott’s organ effect utilizing an especially churchy sound and using chords to state the melody. Switching things up, she starts out using these bouncy chords, with the drummer carrying the rhythm using brushes. Incredibly, she STILL manages to build her solo, causing drummer Arthur Edgehill to switch from brushes to sticks to match Scott’s energy. Sparks flying everywhere, Scott continues to wail on the organ in such a way that I’m sure the guys in the studio had a fire extinguisher on hand just in case things burned even more. Miles Davis is largely credited with taking this song and making it a jazz standard. In ending the tune, Scott takes a cue from Miles and jams on an extended vamp for a while before taking it out.

The rest of the album unfolds in much the same way, with Scott at forefront and playing the organ in an economical style that betrays her background as a pianist. Her sidemen on this date weren’t strangers to her or each other. Bassist George Duvivier and Arthur Edgehill, together with Shirley Scott, were the trio that backed up Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis in his group. They do a fine job of supporting Scott while adding flavor and fire to the music. For all the things I’ve read in Scott’s album notes about not liking to play with a bassist, she seems to do it more often than not, and I actually like the results. It gives the music a firm, earthy foundation. Not that Scott can’t make a groovy, earthy and firm foundation herself (please see her pedal work on “Dearly Beloved”).

All in all, this is another solid album in Ms. Scott’s discography and a strong example of a relatively rare phenomenon in jazz- a female instrumentalist. This February, I challenge you to seek out some of the few black women that were/are just as adept on instruments as their male counterparts. You may be surprised at what you find!

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: A+

This may be the greatest cover art a Shirley Scott album has ever seen. That’s no hyperbole. The photograph of Ms. Scott exudes elegance, class, and beauty. The vibrant indigo blue backdrop perfectly accentuates her glamorous blue earrings. Her eyebrows are perfection. Her hair is perfection. Alright, I’ll just say it. She looks GOODT (pronounced “good-TUH). In fact, remove the graininess of the photograph and this could have been taken yesterday, she looks so modern. Even the placement and font of the type is modern and non-intrusive. The photographer/art designer isn’t credited, but I’m willing to bet Don Schlitten was the man behind the lens and the artwork design, as he was frequently Prestige’s art guy. Whoever did it, it’s gorgeous and one of my favorite album covers.

The Back

Joe Goldberg contributes the liner notes on this album, and the notes aren’t bad. Goldberg frequently wrote liner notes in the 1960’s, and had the distinction of being the guy that wrote the notes on Bill Evans’ ‘Waltz For Debby’ album. Because it’s 1961, the notes start off making a big deal about Ms. Scott being a woman, which, combined with being a jazz organist, “follows that a girl organist has a particularly rough row to hoe” (an unfortunate and poorly-worded analogy for a black person in general and a black woman in particular). For the record, Shirley was 27 years young when this album was released; she was hardly a ‘girl’, as the cover adequately and abundantly makes clear.

Now that I think about it, these notes are kinda insipid.

The notes only slightly improve from here. He then moves on to dedicate ink to discuss sidemen that become stars themselves, using as examples Chet Baker to Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond to Dave Brubeck, as well as Miles Davis’ entire original quintet. This is all a setup for him to say that Shirley Scott has done the same thing by emerging from Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’ group as a star in her own right.

The album jacket is remarkably white and in good condition for being almost 60 years old. The original price tag is still attached, which I love.

The Vinyl

Released in the summer of 1961, the vinyl is surprisingly deep groove on both sides. The labels are minty clean, but the font on them is intriguing to me. Normally, the font used on the labels for the album and song titles matched the font used on the labels’ address listing. That’s not the case here. The font used for the address is normal, but the title and track listing was printed with a different font. This is the only example of this that I have, so I don’t know if this is truly unusual or not. Any of you knowledgeable record collectors out there, feel free to chime in.

‘RVG’ is stamped into the runnout wax, and indeed the engineering has that distinct Rudy Van Gelder sound. This copy is in glorious mono and sounds absolutely fantastic to my ears, with barely a crackle, snap or pop. This album was recorded during the transition from RVG’s living room studio to his fancy Englewood Cliffs studio, so we get the chance to compare the acoustics. “Bye Bye Blackbird” was recorded in 1960 at the new studio while the rest of the album was made in 1958 in RVG’s parent’s living room. I still laugh when I imagine the conversation that took place when RVG first brought a group of musicians into his folk’s house to record.

The Place of Acquisition

This was one of the handful of records I grabbed while home in Southern California last February for a wedding. I always make a point to visit my hometown record store when I’m in town, and it never disappoints. In fact, that Conte Candoli album I wrote about last month was found there. This record was a happy surprise for many reasons. Any time I find a Shirley Scott album is a treat, but to find a Prestige Scott album? Whoa. It looked super clean and minty, but the price tag said it was $10. Figuring it must be a reissue, I took the record out, only to be dismayed that it was in the jacket without a protective sleeve. The vinyl looked clean in spite of that, and it being deep groove shocked me. Needless to say, I grabbed it with the swiftness.

I’ve noticed that whenever I find Shirley Scott albums (or albums with her and Lockjaw Davis) in the wild, they’re never expensive. After being conditioned to think all original Prestige albums are expensive, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see that little old me can easily afford her albums. Because I will continue to buy her albums!

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