Jazz at 100 Hour 81: Soul Jazz – Saxophonists and Pianists (1958 – 1969)

Les McCann

Soul Jazz developed in the late 1950s and become a staple of ghetto jukeboxes. Its catchy lines, heavy beat and blues-influenced phasing became a popular alternative to other jazz forms evolving in the 1960s. In addition to the guitar and organ led ensembles that have been featured in the previous two hours of Jazz at 100, a number of saxophonists and pianists became best-selling soul jazz stars.

“Many critics dismissed this ‘soul jazz’ style out of hand, but listeners responded with enthusiasm, boosting the careers of a new crop of jazz stars, including Jimmy Smith, Ramsey Lewis, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Eddie Harris, Ray Bryant, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Wes Montgomery, Les McCann, Lou Donaldson, Stanley Turrentine, and others.” – Ted Gioia

“This style drew on a number of historical antecedents. The burgeoning rhythm-and-blues movement of the late 1940s and 1950s profoundly influenced the soul jazz players, as did (tracing the sound even farther back) the blues-drenched Kansas City and Texas tenor traditions. The crowd-pleasing antics of battling sax players, a jazz staple from the 1950s … also anticipated this later idiom. Bits and pieces of other African American idioms were further tributaries flowing into this hybrid music: big band riffs, urban blues, call-and-response forms, and gospel music, among others.” – Ted Gioia

The Saxophonists – Lou Donaldson, David Newman and Stanley Turrentine.
Let’s start our listen to Soul Jazz with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and tenor saxophonist David Newman.
“[The LP] Blues Walk, true to its title, is [Lou] Donaldson at his bluesiest. The shades get lighter and darker as the context dictates, but the general effect is highly consistent throughout. It’s probably at this point that Donaldson puts aside the more obvious aspects of his Parker fixation and starts to play in an earthier and more straightforward idiom.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

“It’s worth considering that when [David Newman] made the Fathead sessions for Atlantic, under his boss’s patronage and a ‘Ray Charles presents’ strapline, his old Texan bandmate Ornette Coleman was playing a residence with Paul Bley at the Hillcrest and just about to join the same label. Not as much as one might think separates them at this stage. Listening to individual tracks, Newman’s music is pitched … between jazz, R&B and proto-soul sax.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Blues Walk. Lou Donaldson Quintet
(Lou Donaldson-as, Herman Foster-p, Peck Morrison-b, Dave Bailey-d, Ray Barretto-cga). From Blues Walk. 7/28/1958

Fathead. David Newman Sextet
(Marcus Belgrave-tp, David Newman-ts, Hank Crawford-bs, Ray Charles-p, Edgar Willis-b, Milt Turner-d). From Fathead: Ray Charles Presents. 11/5/1958

“Stanley Turrentine also found his biggest audience with his jazz-pop crossover recordings of the 1970s, but the tenor saxophonist had already established his credentials (and a big following) as a lyrical and inventive hard bop and soul jazz stylist, a reputation gained through the familiar route of a series of strong albums for Blue Note in the early 1960s. Whatever style he performed in, Turrentine was readily identifiable by his rich, full-bodied sound on tenor saxophone.” – Kenny Mathieson

“What first leaps out and grabs the listener’s attention is Turrentine’s sweet yet muscular sound, which suggests Johnny Hodges more than the classic Swing tenors. A flexible voice, it can deepen to a resonant honk, soar into one of the most piercingly full-throated cries in jazz, and broaden to a thick, sensuous vibrato on ballads. Turrentine tends to play on top of the beat, making for a deep, trancelike groove, and his phrasing draws on both modern jazz and R & B. Angular lines alternate with timeless blues phraseology. That’s Where It’s At, which represents ‘soul jazz’ at its most eloquent, also owed much to McCann’s orchestral blues- and gospel-soaked style, as well as to the exquisite ballad he contributed to the date [‘Dorene Don’t Cry, I’]’. – David Rosenthal

“He had crossover success in the ’70s but moved back to more straight-ahead playing and latterly divided his time between both situations. Turrentine’s bluesy soul-jazz enjoyed considerable commercial success in the ’60s and after. His forte was the mid-tempo blues, often in minor keys, played with a vibrato as broad as his grin… ‘Sunny’… [is] like a mini-movie, packed with action and intrigue. The ensemble cast could perhaps be more generously provided for, but as a spotlight on one of the great tenors of the modern era it’s impossible to beat. – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Dorene Don’t Cry, I. Stanley Turrentine Quartet
(Stanley Turrentine-ts, Les McCann-p, Herbie Lewis-b, Otis Finch-d). From That’s Where It’s At. 1/2/1962

Sunny. Stanley Turrentine Nonet
(Blue Mitchell-tp, Julian Priester-tb, James Spaulding-as/fl, Stanley Turrentine-ts, Pepper Adams-bars, McCoy Tyner-p, Bob Cranshaw-b/el-b, Mickey Roker-d, Joseph Rivera-shaker/tamb). From The Spoiler. 9/22/1966

The Pianists – Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis and Les McCann.
Herbie Hancock has been featured already in this series of programs for his role in Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet. Another aspect of his musical contributions of the period are the often-covered hook-heavy tunes like ‘Cantaloupe Island’ and ‘Watermelon Man’ that foreshadowed his best-selling fusion efforts to come.

Fellow Chicago-born jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis had a huge Soul Jazz hit with ‘The In Crowd’, leading to a successful series of similar covers of pop hits. “Lewis’s genuine jazz gift has been periodically overtaken by commercial success.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Cantaloupe Island. Herbie Hancock Quartet
(Freddie Hubbard-cor, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Anthony Williams-d). From Empyrean Isles. 6/17/1964

The In Crowd. Ramsey Lewis Trio
(Ramsey Lewis-p, Eldee Young-b, Isaac “Red” Holt-d). From The In Crowd. 5/13 – 5/15/1965

Les McCann’s reprise of his 1966 ballad ‘Compared To What‘ on the LP Swiss Movement recorded at Montreaux in 1969 with tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris, became a career-defining recording for both artists, who continued to merge jazz with funk and soul.

Compared to What. Les McCann – Eddie Harris Quintet
(Benny Bailey-tp, Eddie Harris-ts, Les McCann-p, Leroy Vinnegar-b, Donald Dean-d). From Swiss Movement. 6/21/1969

A Final Word From Cannonball Adderley.
After his stint with Miles Davis, including the landmark Milestones and Kind of Blue sessions, Cannonball Adderley established his own quintet that included the piano and composing of Joe Zawinul for most of the 1960’s. Adderley’s live recording of Zawinul’s ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ became a major Soul Jazz cross-over hit in 1966.

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Cannonball Adderley Quintet
(Nat Adderley-cor, Cannonball Adderley-as, Joe Zawinul-p, Victor Gaskin-b, Roy McCurdy-d). From Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! 10/20/1966

Soul Jazz reached its peak of popularity in the late 1960s. It has continued as a significant sub-genre of jazz and still commands a large urban audience.

“Funky means earthy and blues-based. It might not be blues itself, but it does have that ‘down-home’ feel to it. Soul is basically the same, but there’s an added dimension of feeling and spirit.” – Horace Silver

The brutal repression of the subversive mixed-race jazz subculture in South Africa led to the emigration of several important musicians whose work in the United States and Europe helped focus the world’s attention on the apartheid regime in the 1960s and 1970’s. Prominent among the emigres are pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who originally recorded as Dollar Brand, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and bassist Johnny Dyani. South African jazz artists in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Lou Donaldson. Blues Walk. Blue Note BLP 1593
David Newman. Fathead: Ray Charles Presents. Atlantic LP 1304
Stanley Turrentine. That’s Where It’s At. Blue Note BLP 4096
Stanley Turrentine. The Spoiler. Blue Note BLP 4256
Herbie Hancock. Empyrean Isles. Blue Note BLP 4175
Ramsey Lewis. The In Crowd. Arco LP 757
Les McCann & Eddie Harris. Swiss Movement. Atlantic SD 1537
Cannonball Adderley. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Capitol ST 2663

Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7 – The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles.
Mathieson, Kenny. 2002. Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65. Canongate Books.
Lou Donaldson / Stanley Turrentine
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Lou Donaldson. Blues Walk
David Newman. Fathead: Ray Charles Presents
Stanley Turrentine. The Spoiler
Ramsey Lewis. The In Crowd.
Rosenthal, David. 1992. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 6. Tenors and Organs

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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