Other Places: Supersax

The latest edition of Steve Cerra’s Jazz Profiles features an extensive illustrated history of Supersax Plays BirdSupersax. The group of saxophone virtuosos dedicated themselves to performing transcriptions of intricate Charlie Parker solos. In addition, band members played top-grade improvisations of their own. Steve’s post has an interview of Supersax founder Med Flory by Marc Myers of Jazz Wax. A live concert video of “A Night in Tunisia” includes not only brilliant reed section work but also let-out solos by baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz and trumpeter Conte Candoli. To go to Jazz Profiles, click here.

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  1. Terence Smith says

    Thanks to Doug Ramsey for reminding us all of the greatness of SuperSax and for providing this ultimate example of a sax section miraculously worthy of its seemingly impossible task: conveying Bird’s attack and intonation. As Doug says, their solos are up to the setting.

    It brings to mind a spiritual predecessor of Supersax from Hal McKusick’s wonderful 1958 Decca LP called “Cross Section- Saxes.” Several great arrangers including George Russell wrote for the album, but my favorite number is Ernie Wilkins’ arrangement of “Now’s the Time” with a full sax section conveying every nuance of Bird’s so familiar but ever-surprising 1945 solo. The soloist is Bill Evans at his relaxed amazing best. I think Peter Pettinger said it’s as close as we’ll ever get to hearing Evans with Bird.

    If you can find that one, you won’t forget it, and you might put it on the shelf with SuperSax..

    PS- I just looked up the personnel on “Now’s the Time” as listed on the back of the Cross Section, Saxes LP: McKusick and Frank Socolow, altos; Dick Hafer, tenor; Jay Cameron, baritone; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; and Connie Kay, drums.

    They should have done a series of albums with Wilkins!

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Cross Section-Saxes has all but disappeared. Decca reissued its eight tracks on a 1995 CD that is nearly as hard to find. This site lists three new copies for $149.99 each, but several used copies for as low as $5.29.The group predates Supersax by 14 years. Eight other tracks on the CD are from McKusick’s 1957 Coral album Hal McKusick Quintet Featuring Art Farmer, another essential item in his discography, featuring Farmer on trumpet and Eddie Costa, Milt Hinton and Gus Johnson in the rhythm section.

      • Jon Foley says

        Until I read Terence Smith’s second paragraph, I was ready to post something about Cross Section – Saxes, but now I don’t need to. I definitely second his recommendation. That version of “Now’s The Time” is one of my desert island tracks. I just listened to it again the other day.

        For some reason known only to Orrin Keepnews, when he reissued those tracks on that 1995 Decca CD, he substituted a mono mix for the original, beautiful-sounding stereo version (I had the original stereo LP). It still sounds very good, but not nearly as good as it was in stereo.

        A Japanese CD version of Cross Section – Saxes came out a few years ago but it was too expensive for my tastes; I think that might be in stereo. I’m keeping my hopes up of finding the original version on CD somewhere, sometime.

        • says

          Ha! This is the very first time I’ve learned that someone did it the other way round: Making mono out of stereo ;) Weird!

          Let’s not forget Dave Pell’s glorious Prez Conference with a congenial transfer of Lester’s “Taxi War Dance” and other gems. Just brilliant!

          By the way, Michael Cusucuna never replied to my question why they used the echoed tracks throughout for their LP-twofer Lester Young ‎– The Aladdin Sessions (also for the earlier single LP’s).

          As for “Super Sax”: Their transcription of Bird’s solo on “Dizzy Atmosphere” (At Birdland, May 1950) is one of the most virtuoso writing & playing of a sax section I ever heard. But I can’t listen to it right now, ’cause I can’t find the LP at the moment.

          • David says

            That is weird, Brew! However, keep in mind that stereo LPs were still something of a novelty in ‘58. With a good multi-track master, they could produce credible mono and stereo versions, but the emphasis was often on the mono version. I’m just guessing, but maybe Orin felt that the mono version was more “authentic” at a time when mono reissues were starting to become fashionable.
            I’d also point out that, well into the ‘60s, jazz & pop engineers were still recording instruments like piano & drums with a single mic and even panning them all the way to one side; better than the comb-filtered fake stereo stuff, but still not true stereo.
            Art Pepper’s ‘57 recording of “Meets the Rhythm Section” must have been originally intended for mono release because the alto is in one channel and everyone else in the other! A European budget reissue label recently came out with a “true stereo” version that only made it sound worse.

  2. says

    @David — The very same goes for Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”: Trane blows almost exclusively on the right channel, the others on the left. It’s ok to listen to it through speakers, but quite painful with headphones.

    The original LP with Peggy Lee, “Mink Jazz”, was mastered so badly, that they had to remaster it for the CD release, putting Peggy in the center. She is on the far left, the rest of the band (plus a heavy echo) on the right. Adjusting the balance would be the only solution because Peggy’s voice got mixed down too.