Weekend Extra: Steve With Pee Wee, Red And J.S.

Around the same time in 1966 that pianist Steve Kuhn made The October Suite with Gary McFarland (see the post two items down), he was one of a more or less impromptu intergenerational group. Kuhn kuhn1.jpgplayed a college concert with two of his contemporaries, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Marty Morell, all in their twenties. They accompanied the headliners, two of the music’s brilliant eccentrics. Trumpeter Red Allen was only 58, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell 60, but they had been around since shortly after jazz began, honing styles so personal that no one has ever been able to imitate them. The concert ended up on an album long out of print and never reissued as a CD. If you’re lucky, you might find a used copy. Here is “Blue Monk.”

Haden continues as leader of his busy Quartet West. Morell’s career has covered classical percussion as well jazz drumming with the Bill Evans Trio and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Kuhn records often and performs frequently at clubs and festivals, as he did slightly less than a year ago at the Festival Bach de Montréal. J.S. Bach, the old improviser, might have been pleased at Kuhn’s insertion of bebop quotes into his minuet. Aidan O’Donnell is the bassist, Billy Drummond the drummer.

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  1. Patrick Hinely, Work/Play® says

    Actually a CD version of College Concert is available, on the Solar label (of indeterminate origin as well as legitimacy—I saw it on amazon.co.uk)—it’s a 2-LP-on-1-CD feature, pairing it with Russell’s first CBS album, from 1963, New Groove. And under GBP 10,-

  2. David says

    At the time of the “College Concert,” Red Allen was very ill with stomach cancer with only a few months to live; yet his spirit on the bandstand is undiminished and he sounds right at home with the “modern” rhythm section.

  3. says

    As I recall, that College Concert was a very short LP, perhaps only 35 minutes in length. There has to be more material in somebody’s drawer, and it would be great to hear it.

  4. Charlton Price says

    Doug, your providing these two video clips gives us a précis of a century of jazz history. I think Red Allen’s “Body and Soul” is definitive, along with the justifiably immortal Coleman Hawkins version. I’m charmed by Steve Kuhn’s little smiles as he lays bop on Bach. And the ever poignant, elegiac Pee Wee, especially on “Pee Wee’s Blues,” reminded me that Whitney Balliett remarked, “even his feet look sad. ” The back-up people on both sessions are superb. This is one of the preeminent Rifftides posts ever. Thank you.

  5. says

    I’ve played “Body and Soul” from this album for my jazz-history classes for 18 years. It shows Red’s singing and playing in exemplary fashion, even though he was dying at the time. And it shows how comfortable he was with a hip young rhythm section. Don Ellis didn’t call him “the most avant-garde trumpet player in New York City” without good reason.

    BTW, accounts differ as to whether Allen was born in 1906 or 1908. But the Allen bio-discography, as well as trumpeter-biographer John Chilton, claim 1906.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      I remember thinking years ago when I saw that Ellis quote in Down Beat that he and Red should have recorded together. I wish that they had.