The vacation trip is over. I’m easing out of the driver’s seat and back into the saddle. Blogging will resume at a leisurely pace necessitated by rescuing the lawn and garden from two weeks of neglect, paying overdue bills, dealing with an accumulation of telephone messages, and facing the intimidating pile of mail that I hauled out of the post office in a plastic tub the size of the freight containers we saw on trucks on Interstate 5. Well, enough of that; you know what it’s like to return from a vacation.
One of the pleasures of the 3000-mile motor excursion down and up the west coast of the US was silence. Except for conversation between two people who don’t seem to get enough of it at home, and a modicum of music, we cruised along luxuriating in the glorious spring scenery. We saw shades of green I’d forgotten existed. This was along the old Columbia Gorge highway in Oregon.
For purposes of relief and recharging, we limited listening to a couple of CDs. One of them came as a surprise and a pleasure. It was by a trio that included only one musician whose name is likely to be familiar to many listeners outside the San Francisco Bay area.
That name is Ron Crotty. He was the bassist in the Dave Brubeck Trio of the late 1940s and early ’50s and the quartet that Brubeck and Paul Desmond formed in 195l. On the cover of Brubeck’s celebrated Jazz at Oberlin from 1953, he is lounging in the lower right of the photograph. Crotty’s influences were Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown. At the age of 80, that’s how he plays today, with solid time, a big tone, the best notes in any given chord, no acrobatics high on the finger board, no triple stops and no blinding double-time passages. With Crotty on the new CD are men he plays with in his gigs in the café of the Oakland Museum, the clubs called Anna’s and Sadie’s and other spots around the Bay Area. They are bass trumpeter Frank Phipps and guitarist Tony Corman. How many important bass trumpeters can you name? I can think of two in addition to Dizzy Gillespie, who dallied briefly with the instrument. They are Cy Touff and Johnny Mandel. Mandel played bass trumpet briefly with Count Basie, then went on to other work. Add Phipps to the list. Cat can play. So can Corman. Phipps has a lovely way of alluding to extracurricular tunes without quoting them outright. Why is he shown on the cover playing a trombone? I don’t know.
The CD, cleverly titled Crotty Corman And Phipps, is on the Auraline label, as new to me as are Phipps and
Corman. All of the tunes are standards, except Corman’s samba “Rosa Rugosa” and Phipps’s “Ron’s Muse.” I was absorbed by Crotty’s straightforward bass line on “I Got Rhythm” changes in “Ron’s Muse.” “Rhythm” changes can be abused and they can be boring, but in the right hands they are never outdated. Other highlights: the languor of Corman’s out-of-tempo introduction to “Rosa Rugosa;” Phipps’s muted sound of a friendly walrus on “How Deep is the Ocean;” the way the three use the changes to create a new melody from the beginning of “Ghost of a Chance,” never disclosing the tune until the bridge of the final chorus; the unperturbed spunk of “My Little Suede Shoes;” the rolling swing of “Tangerine.”
In this clip from YouTube, they play “Witchcraft.” The sound is on the verge of distortion, but the video gives you a look at the group. Corman goes beyond allusion in his quote from John Lewis’s “The Golden Striker,” but he makes it fit so nicely that he can be forgiven.