Jazz at 100 Hour 27: Un Poco Loco – The Intensity of Bud Powell (1946 – 1953)

Bud Powell

Mentored by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell became the first great piano innovator of bebop. “It would be hard to overstate Powell’s impact. His ingenious technique and originality as an improviser and composer established the foundation for all pianists to follow. Long after bop had faded, Powell remained a source of inspiration for pianists as varied as the harmonically engrossed Bill Evans and the rhythmically unfettered Cecil Taylor. In other words there is jazz piano Before Powell and After Powell. While his left hand played a neutral backdrop of chords, his right hand would explode into a blindingly intricate improvisatory cascade, rivaling (and even surpassing) Parker and Gillespie in rhythmic imagination.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Bud and Monk.
“As a teenager, he frequented Minton’s Playhouse, where Thelonious Monk spotted his talents” ‘I was the only one who dug him,’ Monk once said. ‘Nobody understood what he was playing.’ He may have intuited that the brilliant pianist was best suited to interpret his own challenging compositions. In return, Powell showed a stubborn loyalty to Monk’s music, featuring the knotty ‘Off Minor’ on his first recording session in 1947, and returning to his compositions throughout his life.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Off Minor. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 1/10/1947.
Recorded 10 months before Monk’s own version.

Epistrophy. Kenny Clarke and his 52nd Street Boys
(Kenny Dorham-tp, Fats Navarro-tp, Sonny Stitt-as, Ray Abrams-ts, Eddie DeVerteuil-bs, Bud Powell-p, John Collins-g, Al Hall-b). 9/5/1946.
Not recorded by Monk for almost two years.

52nd Street Theme. Bud Powell’s Modernists
(Fats Navarro-tp, Sonny Rollins-ts, Bud Powell-p, Tommy Potter-b, Roy Haynes-d). 8/9/1949.
“He transforms The Street into a carnival, echoing the theme with brilliantly impetuous piano fills, milking the release, and having Navarro extend the theme’s final riff well into Rollins’s solo. The beginning of his own solo sounds like a match igniting.” – Gary Giddens
Not only was Powell recording Monk’s compositions at a time when Monk was little known, at times, he recorded Monk’s music before the composer himself. These versions of “Off Minor” and “Epistrophy” are the first recordings of these tunes and Monk never even recorded the “52nd Street Theme.”

Intense, Awesome and Driven.
“Words like intense, awesome and driven apply to Bud Powell more than to any other pianist … indeed his playing sometimes bordered on the demonic. Love, anger, frustration, joy, reflection, even terror were all revealed through his fingers. Watching him perform with his eyes closed, it seemed as if the music came directly out of him rather than out of the piano.” – Dick Katz from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano

Somebody Loves Me. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 1/10/1947. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)

Bud Powell, Ray Brown, & Max Roach Trio.
“Early 1949 was a good time for Bud Powell. He had just emerged from Creedmore Sanatorium, where he had been incarcerated for several months, and was raring to make a record for Clef. It was a brief window, as he soon returned to Creedmore for more treatment. Difficult as it may be to imagine musical creativity taking place under these conditions, Powell seemed untouchably inspired, ready to display not only his pianistic fancy but also his talent as a composer … On the 1949 sessions, accompanied by Ray Brown and [Max] Roach, he turned out a number of masterpieces. A dazzlingly fast and boldly harmonized ‘Cherokee’ visited and challenged territory previously claimed by Charlie Parker, while the easygoing ‘Celia’ (dedicated to his infant daughter) explored the gentle side of bop, combining relaxed triplets and his canny use of syncopated rests. The darkly colored ‘Tempus Fugue-It’ is a tempestuous performance that nonetheless suggests Powell’s witting familiarity with Baroque polyphony and the Latin proverb Tempus Fugit” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Cherokee. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Ray Brown-b, Max Roach-d). 2/1949.

Celia. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Ray Brown-b, Max Roach-d). 1/1949.

Tempus Fugue-It. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Ray Brown-b, Max Roach-d). 1/1949. (The Norton Jazz Collection)

Bud Powell, Ray Brown, & Buddy Rich Trio.
“A session from the following year finds Roach replaced by Buddy Rich. Here Powell floors the gas pedal, apparently trying to take the tempo to its limits—it sounds as though the pianist is engaged in a race with the virtuoso drummer—on a thrilling version of ‘Tea for Two.’ These tracks possessed an odd, almost paradoxical quality, conveying a sense of mastery, yet also sounding as though they are on the brink of spinning out of control. Much of their appeal comes from this daredevil willingness to push to extremes in performance—a calling card of Powell’s finest work.” – Ted Gioia

Tea for Two. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Ray Brown-b, Buddy Rich-d). 7/1/1950.

Bud Powell – Composer.
“[Bud Powell] was a remarkable tunesmith whose work ranged from the pure delight of ‘Bouncing With Bud’ to the forbiddingly haunted ‘Glass Enclosure’ to the bop march ‘Dance of the Infidels,’ which begins with a harmonized bugle call. Drawing on his knowledge of Baroque counterpoint and his command of modern jazz harmony, he couched his tunes and many of his arrangements of pop songs in intricate structures.”-Gary Giddens & Scott Deveaux

Bouncing With Bud. Bud Powell’s Modernists
(Fats Navarro-tp, Sonny Rollins-ts, Bud Powell-p, Tommy Potter-b, Roy Haynes-d). 8/9/1949.
“…[T]he classic Bud Powell’s Modernists session for Blue Note, [is] a date that could be pegged as the birth of the hard bop style.” – Ted Gioia

Glass Enclosure. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, George Duvivier-b, Art Taylor-d). 8/14/1953.

Dance Of The Infidels. Bud Powell’s Modernists
(Fats Navarro-tp, Sonny Rollins-ts, Bud Powell-p, Tommy Potter-b, Roy Haynes-d). 8/9/1949.

Un Poco Loco.
“In light of his mental instability, it’s telling that some of his best-known tunes have painfully self-reflective titles, like ‘Hallucinations’ and ‘Un Poco Loco.’ The latter is an insistently aggressive, utterly original Latin tune, pitting Powell’s frenetic energy against Max Roach’s clanging cowbell and polyrhythmic accompaniment.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Hallucinations. Bud Powell Solo
(Bud Powell–p). From The Genius Of Bud Powell. 2/1951.

Un Poco Loco. Bud Powell Trio
(Bud Powell-p, Curly Russell-b, Max Roach-d). 5/1/1951. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
“The drums seemed to extend his palette, most conspicuously on the tantalizing ‘Un Poco Loco,’ where the effect of Roach’s clanging cowbell and cymbals is as bracing today as in 1951.” – Gary Giddens
Oblivion. Bud Powell solo
(Bud Powell-p). From The Genius Of Bud Powell. 2/1951.

“Powell’s greatest limitation was as a performer of ballads. But this was also a general weakness of his whole generation of jazz pianists. Not until the late 1950s did modern jazz piano refine an original and authentic approach to ballad playing. Powell had a glimpse of this future, as his impressionistic piece ‘Parisian Thoroughfare’ makes clear.” – Ted Gioia

Parisian Thoroughfare. Bud Powell solo
(Bud Powell-p). From The Genius Of Bud Powell. 2/1951

Bud Powell’s friend and mentor, Thelonious Monk, was in the 1940 house band at Minton’s Playhouse for the jam sessions critical to the development of bebop. Although Monk recorded with Coleman Hawkins in 1944, he didn’t record with his own group until Blue Note branched out into modern jazz in 1947. In the next hour of Jazz at 100, we will revisit Monk’s Blue Note recordings between 1947 and 1952.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796.
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891.
Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391.
Bebop Story: Vol. 051, Bud Powell Vol. 1 (1945-49). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection.
Kenny Clark – Klook’s The Man. Properbox 120 4D
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1. Blue Note 781503
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 2. Blue Note 781504
The Genius of Bud Powell. Verve VE2 2506

Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press
“The Advent of Bebop” by Scott DeVeaux
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 11. Modern Jazz: Bebop
Giddens, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 34. Bud Powell (Strictly Confidential)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 6. Modern Jazz
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Kenny Clark – Klook’s The Man
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 2.
Pullman, Peter. 2012. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. Peter Pullman, LLC.

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