Generations Of Tough Guys

Here’s a paragraph from the chapter titled “A Common Language” in my book Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers:

Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who play it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources, and “head arrangements” evolved over time without being written. Mutual access to this community body of knowledge makes possible successful and enjoyable collaborations among jazzmen of different generations and stylistic persuasions who have never before played together. It is not unusual at jazz festivals and jam sessions for musicians in their sixties and seventies to be teamed with others in their teens or twenties. In the best of such circumstances, the age barrier immediately falls.

There are no teenagers in a group called The Generations Band. On their CD Tough Guys, 

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the age range is only from forty (tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander) to seventy-nine (drummer Jimmy Cobb), but the common language principle guides this sextet’s encounter. The tunes are jazz standards or, in the cases of pianist Ronnie Mathews’ “Jean Marie” and “Song for Leslie” and Cobb’s “W.K.,” originals based on familiar patterns. Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, bassist Ray Drummond and alto saxophonist Andrew Speight are the other players.

From the opening track, Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning,” to the closer, Miles Davis’s “Freddie Freeloader,” they swing along in the mainstream with a balance of strength, relaxation and assurance. Alexander, Cobb and Drummond demonstrate why they are omnipresent on records. The veterans Mathews and Belgrave and the youngish Australian Speight show up less often on recordings. They more than justify their generous solo space here. Belgrave’s spacious fluegelhorn, first generally known on Ray Charles’s band, all but steals “So What.” Mathews, a reliable journeyman pianist since the early sixties, shines on the Miles Davis pieces without resorting to Wynton Kelly impressions. He sparkles on “Just One of Those Things,” reminding us of what we lost when he died before this recording was released. On Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “O Grande Amour,” Speight solos beautifully in a stylistic offshoot of the Cannonball Adderley branch of alto saxophoning.

Speight teaches at San Francisco State University’s International Center for the Arts, which produced this CD. The eccentric package, a four-way pasteboard foldout, has nine panels of photographs and useful information. Its odd dimensions and lack of titling on the spine present a filing challenge, but the satisfying music more than compensates.

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  1. says

    Your comment about pairing teenagers with 70-year-olds reminds me of one of my favorite CDs of the 1980s. It was “New Faces” by Dizzy Gillsepie. As the name implies, it’s Dizzy paired with a bunch of young-uns: Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Lonnie Plaxico and Robert Ameen.
    This was 1985, so Dizzy was 68 and way past his prime. Marsalis was just 25. It’s a fun CD. It includes re-workings of some old Dizzy chestnuts like “Tin Tin Deo” and “Birks Works,” plus some newer tunes. I didn’t expect much when I bought it 20 years ago, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.