Fantasys Jazz-Blues: Bobby Timmons, Red Garland and Hampton Hawes
By Brian L. Knight
The blues are an integral component to jazz and without the earlier development of the blues; jazz may have never come to fruition. The close relationship is best displayed when visiting a record store, invariably one will find jazz and blues lumped together in the same section. In addition, the two music forms are lumped together at festivals such as the ones in New Orleans, Ann Arbor and Burlington. Jazz and blues are considered true American art forms (although roots can be traced to Africa) and their simple beginnings have created close to two centuries worth of exciting music. Over the years, musicians have flirted with both styles. Blues maestros have tinkered with jazz while jazz musicians always seem to return to the blues.
The blues finds its roots in American history and especially African-American history. Blues music incarnated in the form of work songs, field hollers or Arhoolies that the plantation workers and slaves sang. In most cases, the songs were structured by "call & response", in which there was a lead singer who was followed by a chorus. The call & response was a societal characteristic of African tribes that eventually made its way across the Atlantic Ocean and transformed into early American work songs. The "call & response" also served as spiritual role in African society, which segued into American religious and gospel music. From both its laboring and spiritual aspects, the "call & response" eventually was translated into a musical form known as blues. The lament of slavery, labor or homesickness contributed to the lyrical content of the blues while the call & response format contributed to the structure of blues music. This is most evident by early blues guitarists who sang a lyrical verse and then answered with an instrumental verse on their guitar.
The "call & response" vocal/guitar format, which was popularized by early blues musicians such as Son House and Robert Johnson, paved the way for the standard 12-bar blues format in 4/4 time. This format was characterized by a set of lyrics, which was repeated and then followed by a final rhyming lyric. For instance: " Oh Lord, I feel ill; Oh Lord, I feel ill; Please Lord, Give me a hangover pill." Each of these lyric sets would comprise 4 bars (i.e. a steady beat of counting 1-2-3-4 and then repeating two more times). Although blues artists often extended or shortened the bars, it was through this loosely structured format that permitted jazz to evolve.
Jazz musicians elaborated upon the 12 bar format which allowed for additional space for exploration within a tune. Instead of regulating themselves to just 4 bars, jazz musicians stretched out beyond the limits of the blues. Jazz artists employ characteristics of the blues by improvising and exploring over the repetitive 8, 12 or 16 bar chord sequences. As a result, jazz often has more complex time signatures such as 7/4 time signatures. This is why the blues sound more rigid and jazz possesses more fluidity. In addition, jazz also incorporated African polyrhythms into its music. Instead of a steady blues backbeat, jazz musicians borrowed the African concept of laying beats on top of each other, which resulted in a set of complex rhythms that allowed for new musical directions.
As jazz developed into Americas premier music form, it never lost touch with its blues roots. The term "Bluenote", which represents the tonal sound of the blues, has become a symbol of jazz though New York Citys Bluenote Club and Bluenote Records. In addition, many artists continuously revisit the blues when they record albums or play live. For instance, one of Miles Davis most popular tunes was "All Blues" which can be found on his 1959 album Kind of Blue. Over the years, the blues have become synonymous with the guitar. From the Delta acoustic blues of Robert Johnson to the electricity of Luther Allison, it has been the guitarists who have made their instruments sing the blues. Well, it wasnt all guitars as Californias Fantasy Records will attest. As part of its jazz-blues series, Fantasy re-released the blues works of some of the jazzs greatest pianists.
Historically, piano playing has been indirectly associated with the blues through popular playing styles such as Ragtime, Barrelhouse, Honky-tonk and Boogie-Woogie. All of these styles by an aggressive approach to playing the piano keys. Jazz pianists have also made incursions into the blues through jazz styles such as soul jazz, bop, and hard bop. The following pianists made the marks on the jazz arena, yet in the process, they never strayed too far from the blues.
Bobby Timmons/Moanin Blues
Bobby Timmons comes from a long line of Philadelphia jazz greats John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Pat Martino, and Jimmy McGriff. On a musical level, Philadelphia has always churned out the soul and gospel; Bobby Timmons was no exception to the rule. Along with other great pianists such as Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, and Gene Harris, the playing of Bobby Timmons was an important chapter in the development of soul jazz. By incorporating elements of soul, gospel and R&B into the already exploratory/improvisational aspects of the bop sound, Timmons created an incredibly upbeat, groovy sound. This compilation covers most of Timmons short career (he died of liver disease at age 38). Three of the tracks come from Timmons first solo effort This Here is Bobby Timmons, which features the trio of Timmons, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Jimmy Cobb. In addition to six original compositions, the original album and this compilation contains three songs that Timmons wrote with other outfits. Moanin, which was originally written when Timmons was with Art Blakelys Jazz Messengers, and This Here and Dat Dere were written while Timmons was with the Cannonball Adderly. There are also two tracks (So Tired and Soul Time) from 1960s Soul Time in which Timmons is backed by trumpeter Blue Mitchell, bassist Keter Betts and drummer Art Blakely. Trick Hips and Milt Jacksons Bags Groove come from his 1964 album Workin Out. Know Not One and Born To Be Blue arrive from the 1963 album, Born To Be Blue, which display the less funky side of Timmons and the more straightforward bop jazz.
Hampton Hawes/Blues The Most
While Bobby Timmons was known for his soul-jazz, Hampton Hawes remained true to the bop style of jazz. Hampton Hawes was born on November 13, 1928; the same date at other great performers such as jazz drummer Idris Muhammad (1939) and bluesman John Hammond (1942); and an obscure writer from an small New England paper. Hawes was the definitive West Coast jazz player. He was born in Los Angeles, he gigged with great west coasters such as Wardell Gray, Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, he often played with Shorty Rogers' Lighthouse All-Stars and he eventually died in Los Angeles. One of Hawes defining moments was when he met the great Charlie Parker at the Hi-De-Ho Club in Los Angeles. Like so many other players, Hawes was ensnared by the innovative playing of Bird and Hawes emulated Parker in his own piano playing. Hawes love for Parker is displayed on this album with a version of Yardbird Suite which was recorded in 1958 with guitarist Barney Kessel, drummer Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell. This is the only case on the album where Hawes doesnt perform one of his own songs. It seems fitting that he chose to play a Bird tune. Unfortunately for Hawes, he also emulated Parkers heroine habits which culminated with Hawes incarceration from 1958 1963. Drug addiction was also a problem shared by fellow West Coasters and Parker fans such as Chet Baker and Art Pepper. Hawes was finally released from prison when John F. Kennedy pardoned him in 1963.
Red Garland/ Reds Blues
Like Hampton Hawes, Red Garland felt connected to his hometown. As Hawes had his Los Angeles, Red Garland loved Dallas where he was born in 1923 and died in 1984. Garland did not attain fame by his geographic disposition but by his unique approach to playing the piano keys. Unlike other jazz pianists, Garland employed a piano style that emitted bell like sounds. This style was called the block chord style and it was accomplished by the left and right hand playing simultaneously. The traditional method was to use the right hand to play the melody while the left hand provided accompaniment. The block chord approach somewhat limited the harmonic range of the piano, which left Garland to master the blues. Reds Blues displays Garlands love the blues with songs such as The P.C. Blues, which was named after bassist Paul Chambers; Ahmads Blues, which was a tribute to pianist Ahmad Jamal and was originally recorded while Garland was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet; and St, James Infirmary, a traditional blues song popularized by Louis Armstrong. Birks Work, which was recorded in November of 1957, features Donald Byrd on trumpet and John Coltrane on saxophone.
After listening to these albums, a major preconception about the blues is eliminated. The blues are often characterized as being simply tales of lament or sorrow. Although many blues songs have recounted tales of lost loves or ones unluckiness, these themes are not an essential component to the blues equation. This fact is exemplified by these three jazz pianists and the obvious lack of vocals and lyricism in there songs proves that lament is not required to play the blues. Despite the lack of vocals, these jazz-blues tunes have are quickly associated with passion. Upon listening to the pianists, one can really feel the emotion that is put into the pieces. Either through instrumentation or lyricism, the blues have always tugged at both the listeners and players inner soul. After listening to these albums, you will feel the tugging as well.