The new series of Prestige recordings remastered for compact disc by Rudy Van Gelder, the engineer who recorded them, is the occasion for the reappearance of one of Kenny Dorhamâ€™s finest albums, Quiet Kenny. The sound was never inadequate on a Van Gelder session, but his rebalancing and adjustment of some of the sonic nuances of the rhythm section etch Dorhamâ€™s sound closer to the intimacy the trumpeter achieved in person.
Dorham was of the generation of trumpet players who followed and were indebted to Dizzy Gillespie. Unlike his contemporary the incandescent Fats Navarro, Dorham played journeyman bebop for a few years before his musical personality emerged. In 1948, when he replaced Miles Davis in Charlie Parkerâ€™s quintet, he began phasing out the standard bop phrases that dominated his concept. The increased maturity of his harmonic thinking led to greater individuality in the creation of improvised melodic lines. At the same time, his articulation, always a hallmark of his work, took on even more of a speechlike quality. In the mid-fifties, Dorhamâ€™s playing with Horace Silver, Cecil Payne and Max Roach established him as one of the most personal voices on any instrument.
Quiet Kenny, from 1960, is an album of masterly Dorham performances. His rhythm section is pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Arthur Taylor. A few months earlier, they accompanied John Coltrane in his watershed â€œGiant Stepsâ€ session. The CD contains Dorhamâ€™s compositions â€œLotus Blossom,â€ â€œBlue Spring Shuffleâ€ and â€œBlue Fridayâ€ in addition to five standard songs. His readings of the melodies of â€œMy Ideal,â€ â€œI Had the Craziest Dreamâ€ and â€œOld Folksâ€ â€œMack the Knifeâ€ conjure up the lyrics almost as surely as if he were singing them. Then, he proceeds to create melodies that sometimes equal or surpass the originals. His compelling â€œAlone Togetherâ€ consists of Dorham playing the melody one time, his only improvisation ten seconds of gentle declension at the end. Itâ€™s a magical performance.
Dorham never achieved the popular success of Gillespie and Davis, and never a smattering of their financial independence. Throughout his career, he found it necessary to have day jobs to keep his family housed and clothed, moonlighting in a sugar refinery and an airplane factory, occasionally writing record reviews and articles for Down Beat. During one period, he taught at the Lenox School of Jazz. At the time he recorded Quiet Kenny, he was working at Mannyâ€™s music store in Manhattan, not teaching trumpet, but on the floor selling instruments. Dorham fell victim to kidney disease in the sixties, but he kept developing, exploring the new freedom that entered jazz with the innovations of Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans and Miles Davis in Kind of Blue and the post-â€œGiant Stepsâ€ Coltrane. He died in 1972.
A new generation of musicians discovered or re-discovered Dorham in the 1990s. Trumpeters as diverse as Ryan Kisor, Nicholas Payton and Byron Stripling have acknowledged his influence not only as an improviser but for his insights into the possibilities in chords. Iâ€™m not sure that the Van Gelder remastering of Quiety Kenny justifies replacing previous CD editions of the album, but I hope that it brings Dorham to the attention of listeners unfamiliar with the work of one of the great soloists of the second half of the twentieth century.
The other CDs reissued in the first batch of Prestigeâ€™s projected series of remastered Van Gelders are:
Red Garland: Red Garlandâ€™s Piano
The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django
Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane
Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Relaxes
Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
Miles Davis: Relaxinâ€™
John Coltrane: Lush Life
Gene Ammons: Boss Tenor
Eric Dolphy: Out There
There’s not a B + in the bunch. They are all Aâ€™s. It will be a challenge for Prestige to match that level of quality in the next release.