Benny and Phil

Benny Carter died on July 12, 2003. His absence is made a little easier to bear with EMI’s reissue of a rare 1960 album originally on United Artists. The CD is Sax a la Carter, with Jimmy Rowles, Leroy Vinnegar and Mel Lewis. The programs begins with “And The Angels Sing” in shuffle rhythm, possibly to honor or tweak Jonah Jones, a trumpet sideman from Carter’s 1941 band who had a series of easy-listening shuffle hits in the late fifties. Lewis provides a shuffle beat that is essence of shuffling. Following eleven other standards, including a classic “If I Loved You,” Benny concludes with two of his own songs, neither well known. One is “Friendly Islands”, a bit of mild exotica that Martin Denny also recorded. On “Ennui,” heard for the first time on this CD, he plays the flowing melody on soprano saxophone, an instrument he should have employed more often. It lasts two minutes and nineteen seconds, with no improvisation, and it is glorious. None of the pieces runs longer than four minutes. That is as much time as Carter needed, as much as Rowles needed, to be memorable.
One of Benny’s biggest fans, Phil Woods, is teaming up these days with Bud Shank for appearances that might be billed as Two Tough Old Altos. I saw them, backed by Bill Mays, Joe LaBarbera and Chuck Deardorf, bring a festival audience of 1500 to its feet, cheering. The partnership is the jazz equivalent not of Grumpy Old Men, but The Sunshine Boys. It has produced the splendid CD Bouncing With Bud and Phil Live At Yoshi’s, recommended for two weeks now in the Doug’s Picks section in the right-hand column, and for good reason.
By 1959, Woods had established himself as one of New York’s hottest alto saxophone players—hot in terms of the emotional temperature he created in his solos and of demand for his services. That year, Quincy Jones landed Woods for his new big band, which went to Europe with Harold Arlen’s musical (often described as a blues opera) Free and Easy. The show soon folded, but Jones struggled to keep the band together and Phil stayed with it until it finally dissolved. The two bonded musically and personally. Jones went on to other endeavors, including movies scores and stewardship of Michael Jackson’s career, and eventually spun off almost entirely into pop music. I remember Phil saying a few years ago that he was happy about his pal’s success, but asking, plaintively, “couldn’t he make a jazz album at least every few years?”
That hasn’t happened, not with fealty to the straight-ahead jazz to which Woods remains committed. So, Phil made the album and called it This Is How I Feel About Quincy. Jones wrote all but one of the tunes, and his great ones are there, “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” “Meet Benny Bailey,” “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” and that delightful product of Jones’s early career, “Jessica’s Day.” The Woods Quintet with Brian Lynch, Bill Charlap, Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin is augmented with four horns to fill out the splendid arrangements by Woods (and one of “The Pawnbroker” by Lynch). Following a thoughtful and sinewy solo by Woods, his arrangement of “Stockholm Sweetnin’” encompasses a transcription of Clifford Brown’s famous trumpet solo alternated among combinations of the band’s eight melody instruments.
The playing by all hands is at the highest level. The Woods composition “Q’s Delight” is a tribute to his friend, but the entire album honors Quincy Jones by renewing and validating his music in its purest state, something that Jones himself has chosen not to do.

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit